EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth and final part in a series by Adams Publishing Group reporters on the state of recreational marijuana in Montana, one year after it was legalized in the state.
Richard Abromeit calls himself and his business partner Jason Smith the old men of Montana’s cannabis business.
Although recreational cannabis has only been legal in Montana since January 2021, Abromeit has been in the pot business since 2009, five years after medical marijuana was legalized in Big Sky state. The business he co-owns with Smith, Montana Advanced Caregivers (MAC), is growing rapidly and he now has three dispensaries with a fourth on the way.
When Yellowstone County voted to legalize recreational cannabis in June 2022, Abromeit joined forces with the other dispensaries to keep it legal.
“Twenty-two Yellowstone County vendors came together and campaigned for voter activation and education, resulting in 58 percent of Yellowstone County residents voting to keep recreational cannabis legal,” he said.
And so the cannabis businesses continued to grow. The fourth MAC pharmacy is expected to open near West 72nd Street in January or February. In addition to dispensaries selling flowers, edibles, and concentrates for medicinal and recreational use, Abromeit also owns and operates an indoor cultivation facility and a farm where he and his employees grow cannabis. While he didn’t want to talk numbers, Abromeit said MAC is the largest pharmacy in Yellowstone County.
On a cold day just before Christmas, four customers walked into the MAC pharmacy on South Frontage Road east of Laurel to shop within half an hour. There is no stereotype of the typical customer, Abromeit said. Three of the customers were women. They all seemed to know exactly what they wanted and each customer produced ID showing they were over 21 years of age.
“We get people from all over the world,” Abromeit said. “They use their passport to show their age. We had people from Russia and Argentina.”
Despite a nationwide labor shortage, Abromeit said it was able to retain its employees. Esparanza Spears has worked for Abromeit for three years.
“We definitely have the best customers,” she said. “It’s nice to meet her by her first name.”
MAC employs 35-40 people, four of them part-time.
The pharmacy on South Frontage Road is currently based in a mobile home and plans to build a new store on site. Demand is high and Abromeit is working hard to keep up.
In November alone, Yellowstone County generated $4.1 million in cannabis sales, making it the highest-grossing Montana county according to the Montana Department of Revenue. Gallatin County is second with November revenue of $3.5 million, followed closely by Missoula County with November revenue of $3.1 million.
As pot sales soar, so does tax revenue, which is expected to reach $50.7 million in fiscal 2024, according to the Daily Montanan.
As with any business, sophisticated marketing helps. Cannabis dispensaries are not allowed to advertise their business or products through the media, but they can come up with clever names for cannabis. Abromeit and his collaborators name the cannabis strains he bred. Customer favorites include the American Sh*t Show and Yellowstone Thunder F*ck.
Abromeit had no intention of owning a cannabis dispensary or becoming a farmer. A native of Laurel, he was a locomotive engineer for Montana Rail Link for 20 years. After three back surgeries, however, he was ready for a change. One of the worst aspects of all these back surgeries was the pain. This is why Abromeit feels such compassion for medical marijuana users, whom he has served since 2009. Abromeit still remembers the day a pastor brought in a couple to help with cancer pain relief. When days are hectic and the bureaucracy of the marijuana industry feels overwhelming, Abromeit looks back on the day MAC was able to bring relief to an ailing man.
“I helped keep him alive for two years. He eventually died and the woman walked in and we just roared as she thanked us for giving her two years with him. That side of things is really fulfilling, knowing that you can take someone’s pain, change their mood, and change their feelings.”
Medicinal weed is now a small part of his business. In Yellowstone County, medical marijuana accounts for about a third of sales. Cannabis comes in three different types, flower, concentrate or edible. Abromeit said that recreational users prefer the flower, while medicinal users use other forms of cannabis. A small part of its sales, about 5 percent, is made up of accessories. A growing number of Montana companies are making products that complement cannabis, including THC-infused gummies made by a Carbon County company and High Road, a Montana company that adds THC to high-end candy bars. Sinful is a THC-infused water also made by a Montana company. Abromeit said he tries to support Montana businesses and typically only stocks Montana-made accessory products.
At the end of the day, Abromeit sees himself as a businessman with a higher purpose.
“I am 54 years old and have children. If you can’t make a change for the better, what are you going to do with your life?” said Abromeit.
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