Alone on the choppy and uncharted waters of Montana’s medical marijuana laws, Butte entrepreneur Glenn Erickson attempts to stay afloat while making the industry into legitimate commerce.
Thus far Erickson, 55, said it has been an adventure.
“From a business standpoint, there are a lot of unknowns,” he said. “Let’s be honest, there is a lot that still needs to be cleared up.”
Erickson has had success doing business in Butte. In 12 years he grew Gilligan’s Tobacco Shop into one of the state’s largest single-location retailers of cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and liquor.
Last month, in the second floor of his store, in a room that had been previously used as a restaurant and bar, Erickson opened MarMed of Montana. Before doing so, he met with Butte-Silver Bow law enforcement and the county attorney’s office. He said he wanted to make sure he was doing nothing illegal and was operating within the confines of the law.
MarMed Butte is a place where those with medical marijuana cards can pick up their medicine, seek advice and smoke. Any customer with a valid card, and with MarMed as their designated caregiver, can order anything from a single-use joint to a month’s supply of the drug. A doctor will be on-site every two weeks to speak with patients and possibly prescribe medical marijuana.
The space resembles an Amsterdam coffee shop, replete with dozens of varietals of marijuana kept in jars behind the bar. It is clean and quiet and the mood is relaxed. On a warm afternoon, more than a dozen people gathered inside MarMed, talking and joking. Some stepped outside onto a deck to smoke. It is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.
“We wanted to provide a safe, secure atmosphere,” Erickson said. He said the same tenets that make his tobacco business successful — product availability, product freshness and low prices — are what can make him successful in medical marijuana.
“When it comes down to it, it’s a business like any other,” said Erickson.
But even he admits there are issues with medical marijuana that he would not face if he were selling something more traditional, like televisions or tea kettles.
“I’m having a hard time buying insurance,” said Erickson. “No one wants to insure this, which leaves me in a difficult position.”
Erickson said security is paramount in his business plan. He wants to make sure his plants, of which he has more than 600 scattered across the state, are safely hidden. In the store, he wants his employees and patients to feel secure and he wants to protect the privacy of his customers.
Erickson hired Mark Gibbons to be the manager of the dispensary. Gibbons, 44, has a background in landscaping and previously worked as an emergency medical technician. He has grown and supplied medical marijuana as a licensed caregiver for more than a year.
“We want to be responsible, legitimate,” Gibbons said.
He talks to his patients regularly, and makes suggestions on certain varieties that can help with certain ailments. He said that in his experience, individuals react differently to different strains and users should try a number of them to determine what works best for their symptoms.
“My ultimate goal is to have the best strains of marijuana from all over the world,” Gibbons said.
As for Erickson, his goal is just as ambitious. He would like MarMed to have a statewide presence, with franchises in Montana cities both large and small.
“I don’t see why not, to have a well-known, well-respected chain of places people can come in and know what to expect,” he said.
But he sees the problems in the 2004 law, and is expecting changes when the Legislature meets next year. Though the initiative was passed by a 62 percent majority six years ago, it can be called vague at best and Erickson wonders how it even got on the ballot without basic problems being addressed.
He said he would recommend more regulation of dispensaries and doing away with the “patient-caregiver” system, which he called “silly.”
“I think if you have your card, you should be able to buy from any licensed provider,” he said. “That’s just good open market business.”
Though he has moved conservatively forward with his business plan, he thinks medical marijuana is here to stay, and he thinks that is a good thing.
“I’ve seen a cloud of darkness shift away from people that were stuck underground,” Erickson said. “These people had social issues, physical issues, but the stigma of being a marijuana user is going away.”