Medical marijuana dispensaries are temporarily prohibited within the Hamilton city limits, but just down the road outside of Victor, Heirloom Remedies is providing patients with cannabis and the general public with an eclectic range of quirky products and services.
It’s an under-the-radar facility, in part because current Montana law doesn’t allow dispensaries to advertise, according to owner Tayln Lang. But he’s proud of the business, which he opened in May, and eagerly invites anyone who’s curious to come check it out.
“I can advertise the gift shop, which is open to the public, and I can say the word dispensary, but I can’t say marijuana,” Lang says with a grin. “I had a small, home-based delivery business, but thought it was time to open a storefront dispensary.
“I didn’t want to irritate people or put it in anybody’s face, so I decided to open outside of the city limits. Today, I service patients from Florence to Darby, from a good central location that provides a certain amount of discretion.”
That closeness to Hamilton is one of the draws for Steve Tomlin, who swings by on his lunch break to pick up two strains of cannabis that help him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This is huge for me to have this here,” Tomlin said, handing Lang cash for the buds in a paper bag as Lang rings up the order to track it. “If they do it right — Colorado and Washington are both good examples — this can provide a good source of income for Montana.
Lang believes he’s among those who are doing it right.
Chimes ring out when someone opens the front door, and they walk into a glass foyer before the door to the gift shop is opened by an Heirloom Remedies’ employee. Initially, it looks and smells like a typical gift shop, with two Christmas trees sporting ornaments for sale, two chairs facing a wood-burning stove, and a wide range of lotions and lip balms spread among antique furniture.
Look a little closer, though, and the chairs’ upholstery is printed with marijuana leaves, the teacups inside one of the antique showcases is filled with various cannabis strains, and a variety of edible cannabis treats are in a basket on the top. Two chalkboards behind the showcase displays the different products, names and prices.
“We wanted to be not just a marijuana dispensary, but more like a holistic health destination,” Lang says as he walks up stairs to the upper level, where three women have wrapped up their yoga class, and he opens a door to show where a licensed massage therapist plies her trade. “We have an eclectic mix of things for people who come in.”
Since this isn’t just any old gift shop, however, Lang and his partners have taken steps to ensure that it’s a secure facility. All of the glass windows are coated with a product from 3M that makes them virtually indestructible, Lang said. If someone does break in, he has high-definition cameras strategically placed that cover virtually every inch of the facility; Lang can view them from a variety of places, including on his cellphone.
“I can even see what denomination of bills are going into the cash register,” Lang said, adding that because they’re a cannabis dispensary, which remains illegal under federal laws, banks typically refuse to do business with them so all their transactions are in cash.
Once a person has chosen their cannabis wares from those on display, a written order is slid through a small opening in a heavy steel, locked door. An employee inside that room then opens one of the two 5-foot-tall safes that are inside, fills the order, and slides it back through the slot in the door.
“No one is getting in that we don’t want to have in here,” Lang said.
He walks out back behind the store to a garage he’s converted to a greenhouse. Heirloom Remedies is “vertically integrated,” which means they engage in every stage of the product, from growing cannabis to destroying the leftover plant stems and leaves.
“This is a closed grow production facility,” Lang said, as he hands a visitor a protective white suit and green booties to cover shoes. “That means it’s a clean room, with no connection to outside ambient air unless it goes through a process of being filtered. The reason for that is I’m growing cannabis for sick people” and he needs to protect the plants from mold or mildew spores, and bugs, without using any pesticides.
He notes that his average patient is a woman around the age of 65, who often is “in a lot of pain” from a range of illnesses including cancer, multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s disease. He provides cannabis to about 100 people who have gotten recommendations from their doctors and approval from the state Department of Health and Human Services. His clients can have only one provider, and Lang can’t dispense marijuana until he has the card in hand.
He puts on dark glasses, and opens the door into the “vegetative room,” filled with dozens of small plants. They start as clones cut from other plants, and Lang picks up one, showing the small roots that are growing after being sprayed with water. Around the brightly lit room are taller plants in pots, which are watered and fed on a regular basis.
“I have T5 fluorescent lights. I have humidifiers and a dehumidifier, carbon dioxide generators — since the plants breath in CO2 and breath out oxygen,” Lang said. “I control the temperatures in the room and in the water, as well as the pH level and the parts per million of dissolved solids in the water, which we test daily.”
He opens the door to the flowering room, which somehow is even brighter than the vegetative room. Inside are 5-foot-tall cannabis plants in buckets, each with the name of the strain written on masking tape.
“We fool them into thinking it’s summer, using a 12 (hours)-on, 12-off light cycle,” Lang said. “Once they’re finished growing, we harvest them. It’s a little bit of science, a little bit of art and a little bit of a lot of other things.”
He pauses to look around at all the equipment, and notes that it’s an “expensive endeavor.”
“The big misconception is that everyone involved in the industry is swimming in money,” Lang said. “That’s not the case. I’m just barely covering my expenses.”
Lang has been involved in the cannabis industry for a decade, but said he’s still learning since there’s no school where you can train. In addition to the challenges in growing cannabis — one being that female plants can turn into male plants and produce unwanted seeds — there’s also the evolving legislation with potential new rules that will be part of a Nov. 30 hearing in Helena.
As opposed to the free-for-all that ensued after Montana voters first overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana in 2004, the newest regulations are much more specific. They call for testing all marijuana and marijuana-derived products for THC levels, contaminants and other quality issues before they're sold.
The state wants a “seed to sale” provision that tracks medical marijuana, thorough labeling for all products, and taxes from providers to cover the costs of administering the Montana Medical Marijuana Act, which was passed by legislators earlier this year.
With 21,120 patients currently enrolled in the Montana Marijuana Program, Lang believes the state is moving closer to acceptance of medical marijuana. He finds some of the proposed regulations to be a bit expensive and onerous, but he’s already implemented some of the others.
“We want to set the bar high with how medical marijuana can be and should be dispensed in the state of Montana,” Lang said. “We’re a member of the Bitterroot Chamber of Commerce; I hosted a business after hours (event), and members of the community came out for tours.
“Medical marijuana has become less of a partisan issue as it has been in the past, as more legislators are exposed to it and see its place in our community. It isn’t a dirty thing to be ashamed of and it can be sold tastefully and safely.”
Ravalli County Sheriff Steve Holton didn’t return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday, but County Attorney Bill Fulbright said that he hasn’t heard of any complaints about Heirloom Remedies.
“Like any other business, if he’s operating within the county and following the rules, it shouldn’t be a problem,” Fulbright said.
And someday, Lang said he might open a dispensary in Hamilton to make it even more convenient for his customers. In October, the City Council adopted a resolution to temporarily prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries and storefront businesses within Hamilton city limits, but will revisit that stance after the state wraps up its rule-making process, which is expected in April 2018.
“Once the state regulatory process is complete, the City Council can determine whether and to what extent it may decide city regulation is necessary to further address public health and safety concerns, and to what extent any of the issues outlined by the U.S. Attorney General will be addressed,” City Attorney Karen Mahar wrote in a Nov. 8 memo to the City Council.