By Patrick Wagner
BOZEMAN, Mont. — Dispensary owner Bob Divine has had to contend with shifting laws in Montana’s medical marijuana program for years, but it didn’t stop him from opening Spark 1 in December 2014.
The Connecticut native has been working in Montana’s medical marijuana sector since 2008 and has seen lawmakers steadily put heavier restrictions on the industry, forcing many businesses — including Divine’s — to change their models and names.
“Our laws changed in 2011 and we downsized substantially since,” he said. “Our grow right now really just maintains our one store in Bozeman. Everyone else is moving forward in the country and we still have a legislative body that wants to move backwards.”
After the 2011 revision to the state’s medical marijuana program, many have seen the state turn back against the tide of legalization, leading to many prominent dispensaries closing their doors. Divine said he keeps his 5,000-square-foot store open for more than just money.
“The passion I have is from growing,” Divine said. “That’s where all of this stems from. We might have some bumps in the road ahead and we might actually be shut down for a bit.”
Divine had worked as a custom home builder for 15 years before venturing into the medical marijuana trade. Now Divine is working to build his own business from the ground up, figuratively and literally.
“A lot of it obviously hinges on the court case in the state, but as far as Spark 1 is concerned, we just want to keep building our patient base, one patient at a time,” he said.
“We’re in the processes of building a grow from the ground up right now, and I am pretty psyched about that. I have always been retro-fitting buildings. This time I couldn’t find the perfect place to buy and I said, ‘You know what? We’re just going to start from scratch and I can put the drains where I want.‘”
Divine said he aims to keep Spark 1’s medical mission on course by demonstrating what he feels a legit medical practice should look like and by not validating the longstanding stereotypes that come with the trade. Spark 1 does this by embracing a clean aesthetic, no gag posters, crazy paraphernalia or paintings of bongs are found in the dispensary. Divine uses a minimalist approach to speak volumes about how his dispensary operates. Divine said he wants a higher industry standard for the medical trade.
“I am really committed to changing the public’s perception of who we are,” Divine said. “A lot of people like to think that it’s this dirty guy down the street, growing in their basement and selling to kids.”
In hindsight, Divine said, his biggest lesson was learning to keep his dispensaries growth at a steady pace.
“We really didn’t know what was coming,” he said. “So many of us were like, ‘Well, I want to move forward but …’”
Now, moving forward is at the forefront of Divine’s mind, despite the state’s adversarial stance regarding marijuana. He’s looking at ways to both cut costs and be better stewards of the environment.
“Our buildings may be the noose that hangs us in the end, because we create a massive carbon footprint to grow a plant that grows quite well under the sun,” Divine said. “So our focus right now? We’re looking at highly controlled greenhouses for us and the future of Montana.”