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Times Inhales Free-Market Fumes in Defense of Medical Marijuana in Montana

Kirk Johnson's reporting is not known for its sympathy toward business or conservatives. But he made a fine free-market argument in support of a liberal priority in Montana - medical marijuana: "Economic ripples or entanglements extend in every direction, business people like the Schmidts say - gardening supply companies where marijuana growers are buying equipment, mainstream bakeries that are contracting for pot-laced pastries, and even the state's biggest utility, NorthWestern Energy, which is seeing a surge in electricity use by the new factories."
One doesn't often see the Times reporting on laws and regulations that hurt business, so when you do you can assume there's a liberal twist in the tale. From Bozeman, Mont., Denver bureau chief Kirk Johnson notified readers on the front of Sunday's National section that "A Boon to the Economy Faces Repeal in Montana." The "repeal" involves repealing the state's six-year-old medical marijuana laws.

(Jeremy Peters' October 5, 2010 story also made the financial argument for medical marijuana in Montana, but from the perspective of local newspapers making money off medical marijuana ads, with none of the paper's usual handwringing over how corporate advertising affects coverage.)

Johnson wrote on Sunday:

For Gallatin Electric, a six-employee company founded by [Rick] Schmidt's father, Richard, as for other businesses in this corner of south-central Montana, medical marijuana has been central to surviving hard times as the construction industry and the second-home market collapsed. Not the smoking of it, the growing of it or even the selling of it, but the fully legal, taxable revenues being collected from the industry's new, emerging class of entrepreneurs. Three of the four electricians on staff at Gallatin, Mr. Schmidt said, are there only because of the work building indoor marijuana factories.

Questions about who really benefits from medical marijuana are now gripping Montana. In the Legislature, a resurgent Republican majority elected last fall is leading a drive to repeal the six-year-old voter-approved statute permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes, which opponents argue is promoting recreational use and crime.

Johnson's previous reporting has not shown much sympathy toward conservatives or business, but he managed a fine free-market argument when it comes to a predominantly liberal priority like medical marijuana:

Economic ripples or entanglements extend in every direction, business people like the Schmidts say - gardening supply companies where marijuana growers are buying equipment, mainstream bakeries that are contracting for pot-laced pastries, and even the state's biggest utility, NorthWestern Energy, which is seeing a surge in electricity use by the new factories. Medical marijuana, measured by numbers of patients, has roughly quadrupled in Montana in the last year.

....

And unlike the situation in sunny California or Colorado, where medical marijuana has similarly surged, growing marijuana indoors is all but mandatory here, a fact that has compounded the capital expenditures for start-ups and spread the economic benefits around further still. An industry group formed by marijuana growers estimates that they spend $12 million annually around the state, and that 1,400 jobs were created mostly in the last year in a state of only 975,000 people.