When Tamarack Dispensary opened in the northwestern Montana city of Kalispell in 2009, medical marijuana was legal but still operating on the fringes of the conservative community.
Times have changed. Owner Erin Bolster no longer receives surprised or puzzled looks when she tells people what she does. Now, her business sponsors community events and was recently nominated as a top marijuana provider by a local newspaper.
“We’ve become a normal part of the community, and it feels good that the community has finally accepted us,” Bolster said.
How far that acceptance goes will be tested when voters in Montana and a handful of other states this fall decide whether to legalize recreational or medical marijuana. Five of the six states with ballot questions lean conservative and are largely rural, and the results may signal how far America’s heartland has come toward accepting the use of a substance that federal law still considers an illegal and dangerous drug.
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Since Colorado first allowed recreational use of marijuana in 2014, 10 other states have done the same. Most are coastal, left-leaning states, with exceptions like Nevada, Alaska and Maine. An additional 21 states allow medical marijuana, which must be prescribed by a physician.
This year, marijuana advocates are using the November elections to bypass Republican-led legislatures that have opposed legalization efforts, taking the question straight to voters.
Advocates point to a high number of petition signatures and their own internal polling as indicators that the odds of at least some of the measures passing are good.
One unknown is what role the pandemic will play in the marijuana measures’ fate. Demand for marijuana appears to be rising with people feeling stressed and isolated by COVID-19