BILLINGS — It was a busy day at Collective Elevation Billings on Saturday and bud tenders saw many new faces as the sale of recreational marijuana started up for the first time across select Montana counties.
"It's just been anticipation, man. It's been a long time coming I think, after the vote went through and we were waiting for everything to get fully opened up. It's just been a countdown," said Isaiah Lindley, a recreational customer picking up edibles.
Connor Lorenz manages Collective Elevation Billings, a dispensary brand that has four total shops across the state. The other shops are in Bozeman, Butte, and Missoula.
Only an hour into the day of sales, Lorenz said it was already busy.
"In the last 48 hours, we've hired four more team members and we're actively probably going to be hiring one or two more. As the month progresses, we'll kind of be able to feel it out. The beautiful, but crazy thing about recreational in Montana is that no one really knew what to expect, but we all knew it was going to be crazy and it is crazy," Lorenz said.
The sale of recreational marijuana remains illegal inside Billings. But for the dispensaries that skirt the Billings border, Saturday at 10 a.m. was the time they could start up sales, providing they are in good standing with the state and local government.
The tax on recreational marijuana sales is 23 percent.
"I think it's awesome. The people that are into it are going to do it anyways. So it's kind of a no brainer that the state does it, get it taxed and the money can go to good places, I'm assuming. That's kind of the idea," said Tyler Sandal, a recreational customer.
Bad news for dispensary owners and consumers is that recreational sales are on the ballot again, this time at the county-level, on the June 7 election. Yellowstone County voters will decide whether recreational sales will continue.
"The way I look at it is the next six months are going to be an opportunity for a lot of recreational shops to be able to prove themselves. Prove their legitimacy, that the crime around town isn't going to increase because of the marijuana. And that there's going to be a lot of tax revenue made that is going to be put into the local community," Lorenz said.
Both Billings Police Chief Rich St. John and Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder expressed concerns about crime that may be associated with recreational marijuana.
Linder told MTN News in Oct. 2020, "Marijuana can in fact be and probably is a gateway drug to bigger and worse things," Linder said. "That's my concern. I realize there's the opportunity to get some revenue and some tax revenue and stuff like that. But to me, it's all about the quality of life and lives in general."
Time will tell if there will be any sort of spike in crime and whether it can be pinned squarely on legal marijuana's shoulders. It is also yet to be seen how much tax revenue the state and localities will bring in from the legal sales.