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Recreational marijuana sales begin in Yellowstone County — but the market might be short-lived

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Nadya Faulx
Yellowstone Public Radio
David McMahon prepares a sale at Lighthouse Organics on Saturday.

It's noon on Saturday at Lighthouse Organics, and manager Cade Broyles is helping a first-time customer navigate the shop — edibles like brownies and chocolate turtles in one glass case, about a dozen different strains of marijuana in another.

"This is what I've been enjoying a lot," Broyles tells him, pointing to a strain called Puppy's Breath II.

The dispensary has seen an almost non-stop stream of customers since it opened on the first day of recreational sales in Montana.

"I’ve only seen three of our usual customers today. It’s nothing but new faces," Broyles said. "Most people are excited to see what they’re going to buy, cuz a lot of these people, they go black market. They’re excited to be able to come in here, see state mandated, regulated, tests…they know it’s going to be safe."

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Nadya Faulx
Yellowstone Public Radio
Two staffers at Lighthouse Organics reach for product as they assist customers on Saturday, the first day of recreational sales in Montana.

The dispensary in Lockwood, a few miles east of Billings, has sold medical marijuana for about seven years; its owner became licensed to sell recreational after voters in Montana passed initiative 190 legalizing adult-use sales. Saturday marked the start of the new recreational market in about half of Montana's counties.

But for Lighthouse Organics and other dispensaries in Yellowstone County, the market might be short-lived: Voters in Montana's most populous county will once again decide later this year whether to continue to allow recreational sales. Commissioners approved sending the question back to voters during the June primary.

Broyles says the dispensary made some investments to get ready for the recreational market, but isn't making long-term plans yet.

"We’ve improved our garden a bit, but we’re not going to build a new garden. We’re not gonna go build a new lab," he said. "Because if this doesn’t work out in six months, we’re just going to be better off than we were.

"But if we go and do all these crazy expansions and everything and it gets taken away from us, then where are we gonna be?"

But Lighthouse is embracing the new market.

"We are looking forward to being able to educate people, and the more people we educate, the more people that won't be against it," Broyles said.

Meanwhile, some dispensaries in Yellowstone County were notified late last month that they aren't zoned to sell recreational products as they had planned to. Billings banned adult-use dispensaries after voters rejected an ordinance allowing storefronts within city limits.