On a recent weekday afternoon, Tayln Lang greets a visitor to Rocky Mountain Cannabis on Orange Street with a wide smile. The longtime medical marijuana advocate launches into an animated explanation of the drug's ability to ease symptoms that stem from a range of ailments, including HIV, cancer and opiate addiction.
"I've seen wonderful, wonderful things happen," he says.
It's in part because Lang believes so vehemently in cannabis' healing properties and the importance of providing it to the people most in need that he's taken on the high-profile, yet potentially dangerous, role of managing Rocky Mountain's prominent storefront location.
"What we're doing is still technically illegal under federal law," Lang acknowledges. He adds that because the operation is following state law to the best of its ability he feels "relatively safe."
There's a significant amount of uncertainty, however, about what will happen to Montana's Medical Marijuana Act in the coming months. In 2011, the federal government, along with local law enforcement agencies, raided dozens of caregivers across the state, just as the Montana Legislature debated a bill that would determine the industry's future. Lawmakers eventually voted to prohibit marijuana providers from profiting from sales and banned advertising.
The effects of the new law were immediate. Dispensaries soon shuttered across the state and advertising disappeared. The number of patients listed on Montana's medical marijuana registry plummeted from 30,036 in June 2011 to 7,519 this past October.
But in 2011 and again in January, Helena District Judge James P. Reynolds emboldened the cannabis industry when he temporarily blocked the profit and advertising bans. Reynolds' decisions means that for-profit entities like Rocky Mountain Cannabis are ostensibly operating in accordance with state law.
Armed with Reynolds' decisions, the local cannabis industry has begun advertising again in recent weeks. At least two new dispensaries have also opened, including Montana Buds and Rocky Mountain Cannabis. The number of patients listed on the statewide registry also indicates signs of growth, as 233 marijuana users were added between October and November.
Reynolds is expected to make a final decision on the profit and advertising bans this spring. His opinion will be subject to appeal by the Montana Attorney General's Office, notes Chris Lindsey, a spokesman for Montana NORML. Lindsey also cautions that, while Missoula seems to be seeing a resurgence, it's a tenuous one. The legal wrangling could leave operators like Langand his patients in limbo for many more months. "We're going to be on this path for a while," he says.