Cannabis, Public Money, And The Soft Power Of The Nickel Duo

by Travis Mateer

While recreational Cannabis has been legal in Montana for 11 months, I haven’t seen much critical writing on its local impact. Sure, money is being made, and storefronts across town are popping up with neon-green crosses in the window, but beyond that, how is the industry doing?

If I had to apply one word to recreational Cannabis in Montana it would be this: confusion. What is the reason for this confusion? It’s pretty simple, there are lots of rules, and those rules keep changing, so the businesses that aren’t tracking these changes might be surprised come January 1st when they get fined for violating these rules.

For me, the question about rules started with edibles, like gummies. The concern from the state is about kids and NOT making edibles too visually appealing to them. To get a better sense of these rules I spoke with Tanner, a state employee who works on educating Montanans within the Cannabis Control Division, which is housed in Montana’s Department of Revenue.

My conversation was semi-clarifying on some questions I had, but overall left me with a sense that this miasma of confusion has definite state origins, and can’t be simply ascribed to stoners trying to become adept business people.

Before Cannabis in Montana could become commercially viable, legislation had to be developed, and one Missoula politician at the forefront of this movement to legalize weed has been Ellie Boldman (formerly Hill, then formerly Smith).

How much at the forefront has Ellie been? Well, let’s take a look at some reporting from a few years ago to see what Ellie and her husband, Tyler Smith, were doing before recreational Cannabis became legal. From the link (emphasis mine):

Other lucrative sectors of the marijuana business are baked into Montana’s current regulatory scheme, such as private testing labs. State law mandates that providers submit their products for safety compliance, which can cost from $300 to $700 per five pounds. Confusion over rules regarding testing labs and independent THC extraction labs that are external to a provider’s business led to multiple lawsuits against the health department from large providers like Lionheart Caregiving over the past few years.

After a flurry of debate in the 2019 Legislature, lawmakers passed SB 265 to further clarify the state’s medical marijuana regulations. While much of Montana’s medical marijuana industry supported the bill, Lionheart opposed it, with its attorney, former Montana federal drug prosecutor Josh Van de Wetering, saying at an April legislative hearing that new restrictions limiting how many providers independent extraction labs are allowed to work with would hurt Lionheart’s business.

Lobbying records also show that Lionheart paid $20,000 to political consultant C.B. Pearson and his firm, M+R Strategic Services, to oppose SB 265 for the same reason. The lobbying report was certified by another Lionheart attorney, former Democratic state Rep. Ellie Hill Smith (now running to represent a Missoula district in the Montana Senate). In November 2018, investors in an independent extraction lab registered to Hill encouraged Lionheart to sue the health department after the state rejected the provider’s permit to work with the lab, according to an affidavit filed by Hill’s husband, who was an investor in both the extraction lab and a separate marijuana testing lab, the latter of which he has since divested from.

After this pre-recreational positioning occurred, a little pandemic ensued, and a few billion monkey wrenches were thrown into the lives of, well, everyone on the planet. This is where PUBLIC MONEY enters the picture to help out people like Ellie Boldman, who benefited from some Covid Cash last year, which I wrote about here. Let’s take a look at a screenshot of my article:

Since testing Cannabis for potency is a part of the process for local growers and retail sellers, I was interested to hear a complaint from a local Cannabis shop that joints had to be tested TWICE. If true, that would mean more business for the companies that test Cannabis products, so I decided to visit the location of Willow Bark Science, which can be located by doing a business search the Montana’s SoS.

Ellie Boldman is just half of the public-money-benefitting, Cannabis-supporting duo I’m referring to as Nickel. And, from what I understand, she isn’t as invested in the industry she helped craft legislation for anymore, nor is her husband, Tyler Smith, who used to be involved with White Buffalo Labs.

The other half of Nickel is, of course, Nick Checota, the man who owns Groove, which is next door to his recently revived music venue, the Top Hat.

As I was doing my research with Cannabis businesses around town, I heard a rumor about Nick Checota using his music business, Logjam Presents, to influence WHERE musical acts can perform, or simply show up. Is this true?

After speaking to both Logjam, and the Cannabis business, I discovered that musical acts that play a Checota venue with Logjam have a “radius clause” in their contract, banning them from performing, or even doing a meet-and-greet, at ANY other local business. This means Nick Checota can use his influence on music to benefit his Cannabis business by DENYING competing Cannabis businesses the ability to do anything with visiting, or local, musical acts.

Here’s my on-the-ground report on this facet of the Nickel duo:

Yes, you heard me right, the clock is now ticking on my time at the ZACC and that is all I’m going to say, for now.

If you appreciate the content I put out SIX days a week, please consider making a contribution at my about page. I have a feeling I’m going to need all the financial help I can get.

Thanks for reading!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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3 Responses to Cannabis, Public Money, And The Soft Power Of The Nickel Duo

  1. LOL!!! All actual concerts and festivals have a radius clause. Not to mention the Top Hat booking has been in the works for months. Literally has nothing to do with this blog, or whatever it is. You have not done your research, Travis. Like at all.

    • Yep, radius clauses are common in the industry. Less common is an owner of multiple music venues AND a Cannabis business interpreting the range of activity prohibited the way Logjam is interpreting it.

  2. John Kevin Hunt says:

    Checota is a slimy grifter and monopolist. He is among the last persons I would ever want in the cannabis industry. His attempt to preclude local musicians from performing in the same market as The Top Hat (and Groove) is just another exampke of this parasite’s greedy, unscrupulous modus operandi. I would like to see local musicians and the musician’s union boycott and picket The Top Hat.

    Not surprised by Elllie and hubby’s attempted insider profiteering.

    Purity and potency testing is essential to regulated commercial cannabis sale. There are, however, nunerous idiotic regulations that are quite stupid when juxtaposed against state firearm laws, transportation of radioactive medical materials, and a litany of other dangerous items and products.

    Driving the price up with unnecessary regulations and stupid double testing requirements, will ultimately result in bootleg cultivation and underground sale/distribution sites and networks, undermining the entire legalization scheme.
    The statutes addressing private, noncommercial cultivaton of cannabis should be overhauled to increase the number of plants and amount of harvested material a home grower may possess on the premises.

    No one who has used and benefitted from cannabis for decades is fond of the corporatized, capitalist market paradigm. Just let people grow, use and share it! Considering that deadly poisonous house plants may be grown in one’s home without regard to their accesibility to children, the continued obsession with controlling private cannabis for personal use, evades reason.

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