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Dispensaries prepare for recreational marijuana blitz with uncertain future in Yellowstone County

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Posted at 9:35 AM, Dec 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-24 12:05:06-05

BILLINGS - The new year will bring the beginning of recreational marijuana sales to many Montana counties, including Yellowstone. Dispensaries are expected to be packed with people who want to partake.

“We are expecting a line out the door potentially down the street. It’s going to be a madhouse for everyone,” says Zach Schopp, the owner of Seeds of Life Labs.

Right now, dispensaries can only sell to patients who hold a medical marijuana card. Schopp says they will be putting some aside for them but are expecting to have to scramble to keep up with demand when recreational sales begin.

It’s something that they have been gearing up for since Montanans voted overwhelmingly to legalize recreational marijuana in the 2020 election.

“We have been scaling up since November of last year. Lots of money. Lots of time. Lots of resources. We are hiring, doing a lot of staffing,” Schopp says.

But there is also lots of uncertainty about the future of recreational marijuana in the state’s largest county. Last week, Yellowstone County commissioners voted 3-0 to put the issue of whether recreational sales can continue in the county on the ballot next June.

Schopp has a lot riding on recreational sales.

He shows off the new cultivation facility that he built this year west of Billings. He says he has his life savings invested in the high-tech facility and has big plans to expand it.

“Everything this plant gets fed, from A to Z, we control every aspect of. Everything from the seed to sale we have complete control over the supply line, so anything that goes wrong ultimately comes down to a failure on our behalf,” he tells me.

That’s one of the reasons why visitors wear plastic rain suits.

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Zach Schopp with Russ Riesinger

“Something foreign being introduced can really cause a lot of headaches and problems. You don’t want someone tracking in bugs or mold spores,” he says.

Depending on what Yellowstone County voters decide next June, he wouldn’t be able to sell the marijuana grown here for recreational purposes in Yellowstone County—but could still grow it for medical and sell it for recreational in ‘green’ counties where residents who want to buy it would be forced to travel.

“This is the thing. Cannabis is still getting grown here. It’s legal to grow cannabis in your home. Cannabis is still getting sold and consumed and used. All they are doing by voting it out is taking the business out. Taking the lab testing and quality control out of it and they are putting it in the hands of the black market,” he says.

Schopp says the possibility that his investment could go up in smoke depending on what voters decide is terrifying.

“This is our livelihood. This is my employees' livelihoods. We are scaling and staffing up and for the chance that we have to close our doors after six months of operating. It’s not right. We voted for it. We know what we voted for, passed it already and here they are trying to challenge that again,” he says.

The vote will take place June 7, 2022— with the future of recreational sales here in Yellowstone County hanging in the balance. Medical marijuana businesses won’t be affected by the decision.