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Growing at home
The Medical Marijuana Act allows for patients to designate a caregiver, as well as grow as many as six plants themselves. Evidently many are trying, because indoor gardening stores are sprouting up right alongside Missoula's medical marijuana clinics. The owner of one store, who wished to remain anonymous because she doesn't want to associate herself too closely with the industry, acknowledged that her business probably wouldn't have opened last October if not for Montana's medical marijuana program.
"It wasn't so much the law passing," she says. "It was more when the federal government said that they wouldn't be prosecuting people as much, and everybody in Montana started getting their cards and doing these bigger indoor operations."
The Green Light in downtown Missoula, a store that sells organic and ethically produced products, has dramatically expanded its offerings of grow supplies in recent months to meet demand, says co-owner Steve Luedecke. He devotes almost a quarter of the store's space to it now. As he walks through the inventory pointing out everything an individual needs for indoor gardening—ballasts, bulbs, reflectors, ventilation systems and various soils—Luedecke says a basic system with a 400-watt bulb can be had for as little as $275.
"There's been a lot of activity, as far as people growing," Luedecke says.
But customers tell him that the learning curve is steep, beset with trials and errors—and expensive ones. After all, caregivers are caregivers for a reason.
"I don't think this is something that you can go buy a book, some grow lights and some water pumps, and come out with a medical grade product without some background," says Lucke from "The Fat Hippy."
The plethora of rookie growers has also sparked another occupation within the medical marijuana industry: grow coaches.
David Drake doesn't necessarily call himself one, but he fits the job description. The 27-year-old Missoulian started the website Smokereports.com—"Home of the largest cannabis (marijuana) database ever created!"—and consults patients and caregivers across the state.
"When people have problems they know to get a hold of me," he says. "I help people get set up. Or if there's a caregiver with a few hundred plants that are about to die, then sometimes they'll call me and I'll help make sure that doesn't happen."
Drake's expertise serves as an example of the breadth of marijuana knowledge quietly cultivated over the years suddenly seeing the light of day. And it's just another example of how much the medical marijuana program has impacted the local economy.
"We're in a time when more traditional businesses have cut back and more people are hurting financially, and people see opportunity in the medical marijuana business," says Tom Daubert, founder of Patients and Families United, a group that lobbies for marijuana patients' rights in Helena. "But I don't think the opportunity is as real as they expect...And I think the trend is potentially unfortunate for patients, and certainly laden with political risks that I am deeply concerned about. I think we all agree that this is moving very fast."