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By Justin Franz, Kaiser Health News

When Tamarack Dispensary opened in the northwestern Montana city of Kalispell in 2009, medical marijuana was legal but still operating on the fringes of the conservative community.

Times have changed. Owner Erin Bolster no longer receives surprised or puzzled looks when she tells people what she does. Now, her business sponsors community events and was recently nominated as a top marijuana provider by a local newspaper.

“We’ve become a normal part of the community, and it feels good that the community has finally accepted us,” Bolster said.

How far that acceptance goes will be tested when voters in Montana and a handful of other states this fall decide whether to legalize recreational or medical marijuana. Five of the six states with ballot questions lean conservative and are largely rural, and the results may signal how far America’s heartland has come toward accepting the use of a substance that federal law still considers an illegal and dangerous drug.

Since Colorado first allowed recreational use of marijuana in 2014, 10 other states have done the same. Most are coastal, left-leaning states, with exceptions like Nevada, Alaska and Maine. An additional 21 states allow medical marijuana, which must be prescribed by a physician.

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