HELENA – Despite snowy conditions in Helena Friday, dozens of people came to the Montana State Capitol to take part in a statewide conference on the medical marijuana industry.
Organizers say the Montana Cannabis Conference is intended as a free educational event for people involved in the industry, and for those who simply want to learn more about it.
“We wanted to give a one-day ability for folks to learn about farming and cultivation science and testing labs and medicine,” said state Rep. Ellie Hill Smith, a Democrat from Missoula and a board member of The Cannabis Way, Montana Chapter, a nonprofit group that sponsored the event.
Those who attended the conference heard from marijuana providers, the laboratories that test marijuana and state and local elected officials – as well as the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture, which regulate medical marijuana in the state.
Hill Smith’s husband, Tyler Smith, the science director of a testing lab in Missoula, was one of the presenters.
Another speaker was Bobby Devine, owner of Spark1, a dispensary with locations in Bozeman, Belgrade and Missoula. Devine, who is also a Cannabis Way board member, said the conference was an opportunity to highlight all aspects of medical marijuana production in the state.
“That’s really the big thing,” he said. “For one, for the industry to get together and have a conversation, but also for the public to be able to see what goes on in the industry. A lot of times it’s sensationalized or political aspects involved, and this is really the day-to-day approach, what we all go through.”
Many of those in the audience had questions about new regulations that will be placed on the medical marijuana industry this year. Montana DPHHS has announced new administrative rules for the program, requiring that all marijuana be tested before it is sold and implementing a system to track marijuana from when it is grown to when a patient buys it.
Devine said he’s supportive of testing requirements, despite the added cost for medical marijuana providers.
“At what point does cost outweigh patient health?” he asked. “I don’t think there is that point.”
Hill Smith said a representative from Metrc, the company that will operate Montana’s seed-to-sale tracking system, was planning to speak at the conference, but had to leave because of inclement weather.
Hill Smith said The Cannabis Way is intended to offer free opportunities for people to learn about medical marijuana.
“It’s folks that just came together to bring all different sectors of the industry together, purely for educational purposes, just to get folks together and share information about cannabis in Montana,” she said.
She said the group wants to make Friday’s event the first in a series of annual conferences.
According to data from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, the state currently has more than 22,000 enrolled medical marijuana cardholders and more than 600 registered marijuana providers.