During the Missoula Chamber of Commerce's monthly Business After Hours event last Tuesday, membership director Bill Samsoe introduced one of the organization's newest members: Zoo Mountain Natural Care, the first medical marijuana business to join the chamber, and likely the first to join any chamber in the state.
"When he announced us I think a couple of [the other members] were a little shocked," says 20-year-old Zoo Mountain co-owner Logan Head. "But once we told them who we are and what we do, they were actually for us, which was great...After the meeting, five or six people came up to us to ask how to get a card and get them legal."
The chamber held a ribbon cutting ceremony outside the clinic Wednesday afternoon, presenting Head and his business partner, Tayln Lang, 35, with a framed $1 bill, their "first dollar of pure profit."
"I felt like being a member of the chamber was a way to educate everyone there who isn't familiar with medical marijuana," explains Head of his decision to join.
The clinic's inclusion in the chamber demonstrates the strides the medical marijuana movement has made since Montana voters passed Initiative 148 more than five years ago. It follows a rapid uptick in the number of medical marijuana businesses in Missoula and elsewhere in the state since the Obama administration announced last October that federal authorities would defer to state marijuana laws. Based on recent events, Samsoe says joining the chamber is "not a big deal."
"Don't make a big deal out of it," he says. "They're a legitimate business...They want to be very out in the open. They want to do everything per the law."
Allen St. Pierre, director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), says medical marijuana businesses—or "cannabusinesses," as he calls them—joining chambers of commerce is becoming commonplace around the country in states with medical marijuana programs.
"It's the normalization of the whole thing," he says.