Montana saw a sharp decline in the number of medical marijuana patients, providers and dispensaries in 2011, attributed primarily to federal raids of medical marijuana businesses across the Big Sky state conducted in March and November. There was also a law, SB 423, passed by the Montana legislature and implemented on July 1 that severely restricted dispensaries. In Missoula, the number of medi-pot dispensaries dropped from 63 at the beginning of 2011 to just 38 by year’s end – but was it due to the new state law or the U.S. government’s escalating war on medical marijuana?

Even the sponsor of SB 423, Senator Jeff Essmann (R-Billings) told The Missoulian that he regards the federal raids as the primary influence in the drastic reduction in the medical cannabis industry. However it’s not just dispensaries that are dying out. The actual number of registered patients saw a startling drop from over 30,000 in June 2011 to only 10,236 in December. This falloff is disturbing because it implies there are thousands of patients who are not receiving their proper medication, largely out of fear of the side effects – in this case, reprisal from the federal government, which includes potentially long prison sentences. 

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And for those patients who are still legally using medi-pot, their options for access continue to shrink. Besides the decline in dispensaries, private providers (medicinal cannabis cultivators) have plummeted from almost 5,000 in March 2011 to less than 400 by at the start of the New Year.