Original article By KIRK JOHNSON on NYTimes.com 
BOZEMAN, Mont. â€” With his electricianâ€™s tool belt and company logo cap, Rick Schmidt looks every bit the small-business owner he in fact is. That he often reeks of marijuana these days … well, it is just part of the job, he said.
The six-year-old medical marijuana industry is thriving in the state, but lawmakers are considering a measure that would shut it down.
â€œI went on a service call the other day â€” walked in and a guy said to me, â€˜What have you been smoking?â€™ â€ said Mr. Schmidt, 39.
For Gallatin Electric, a six-employee company founded by Mr. Schmidtâ€™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 industryâ€™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.
If repeal forces succeed â€” the House last month voted strongly for repeal, and the Senate is now considering it â€” Montana would be the first to recant among the 15 states and the District of Columbia that have such laws.
In Bozeman, a college and tourism town north of Yellowstone National Park, construction jobs and tax collections dried up just as the marijuana business was blossoming; residents and politicians here say the interconnection of economics and legal drugs would be much more complicated to undo.
Economic ripples or entanglements extend in every direction, business people like the Schmidts say â€” gardening supply companies where marijuana growers are buying equipment, mainstream bakeries that are contracting for pot-laced pastries, and even the stateâ€™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.
â€œItâ€™s new territory weâ€™re treading in here,â€ said Brad Van Wert, a sales associate at Independent Power Systems, a Bozeman company that completed its first solar installation last month â€” a six-kilowatt rooftop solar array, costing about $40,000 â€” for a medical marijuana provider called Sensible Alternatives.
Mr. Van Wert said that his company was assertively going after this new market, and that marijuana entrepreneurs, facing big tax bills, were responding to the appeal of a 30 percent tax credit offered by the state for expansion of renewable energy.
The Bozeman City Council passed regulations last year sharply restricting the numbers of storefront suppliers downtown. But growers and providers say that even though the regulations restricted their numbers, they also created a climate of legitimacy that has made other businesses more comfortable in dealing with them for equipment and supplies.
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.
â€œTwenty-five thousand dollars a month,â€ one new grower and medical marijuana provider, Rob Dobrowski, said of his outlay for electricity alone, mainly for his light-intensive grow operation that supplies four stores around the state.
Mr. Dobrowski was a construction contractor until the recession hit, as were two of his brothers who have joined him in the business. He said he now employs 33 people, from a standing start of zero a year ago.
Bozemanâ€™s mayor, Jeff Krauss, a Republican, said he thought there was an element of economic fairness to be considered in the debate about medical marijuanaâ€™s future. â€œI donâ€™t think anybody passed it thinking we were creating an industry,â€ he said, referring to the 2004 voter referendum. But like it or not, he said, it has become one, and legal investments in the millions of dollars have been made.
â€œSomewhere around 25 people have made anywhere from a $60,000 to a $100,000 bet on this industry,â€ Mr. Krauss said, referring to the local startups and their capital costs.
â€œNow the Legislature has got us saying, â€˜Ha, too bad, you lose,â€™ â€ Mr. Krauss added. â€œBoy is that a bad message to send when weâ€™re in the doldrums.â€
Tara Gregorich, who has a degree in environmental horticultural science from Montana State, at work in a marijuana factory.
One owner of a gardening supply company in the Bozeman area estimated that a person could essentially buy a job for $15,000, beginning a small growing operation with 100 plants. Especially for construction trade workers who were used to being self-employed before the recession, the owner said, the rhythms of the new industry feel familiar.
â€œForty to 50 percent of customers come from construction,â€ said the owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because her national suppliers threatened to stop doing business with her if their products were openly associated with marijuana. â€œPlumbers, electricians, the whole genre of working-class, blue-collar Montana.â€
There are shadowy corners in the supposedly compassionate world of medical marijuana. The owner of one downtown pastry shop, where the sale of marijuana cookies and brownies accounts for about 15 percent of revenue, said he broke off a relationship with his first marijuana provider, who wanted the baker to use less marijuana in the products and falsify the ingredients to save the grower production costs.
And it is easy to find workers in this new economy who were in the illegal pot world before. But it is also easy to find people like Josh Werle, 29, who took a job as a grower at a company called A Kinder Caregiver after work as a commercial painter dried up.
Mr. Werle, a fourth-generation Montanan, said his family had seen many industries fade and fail over the decades â€” from railroads to agriculture, and now, in his case, construction. He said he had also worried about his health as a painter, breathing fumes all day. But the economy is what finally pushed him out.
â€œI never envisioned myself working in this,â€ said Tara Gregorich, 29, who graduated last May from Montana State University with a degree in environmental horticultural science. She sat under the lights in an industrial grow room, legs splayed around a plant that she was trimming lower shoots from to encourage growth. â€œBut this is one of the few industries in Montana that is year-round.â€
At Gallatin Electric, Rick Schmidt said he still made a sharp distinction between medical marijuana and street drugs. Illegal drug dealers, he said, â€œshould have the book thrown at them.â€
But he thinks medical use probably does have benefits.
Mr. Schmidt said his father-in-law, who suffers from post-polio syndrome, was considering applying for a medical marijuana card.