City updates social host rules to include marijuana

City Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve changes to the city’s social host rules to include marijuana as a prohibited substance.

Commissioners considered the changes during their April 5 meeting. Mayor Bob Kelly was absent.

The commission enacted the social host provision in 2009 and created a criminal sanction for adults who are involved in organizing, facilitating or otherwise allowing events that involve the possession or consumption of alcohol by minors.

Social host rule change on April 5 city agenda

The rule applied to alcohol and the amendment changed that to prohibited substances, to include marijuana.

“The legalization of recreational marijuana in 2021 and the anticipated increase in its availability in the community has prompted a staff discussion regarding the potential need to amend the current social host ordinance to include marijuana and other substances. The proposed amendment to the existing social host ordinance will more closely align its structure with the current landscape where marijuana is – like alcohol – now a legal product for adult use and will provide a more effective enforcement tool in deterring underage parties where alcohol, marijuana or other illegal substances are being used,” according to the city staff report.

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During the April 5 meeting, Beth Morrison, a substance abuse prevention specialist for the county who also works for Alliance for Youth, said she applauded the city’s effort to add marijuana to the social host rules, which she said were a deterrent.

“Freedom without consequences is a myth,” Morrison said during the commission work session. “Actions have consequences.”

Montana marijuana FAQ

Violation of the city’s social host ordinance provides punishments that range from fines of $250 to $500 and jail time.

The 2009 commission action was based, in part, on the following, according to the staff report:

  • “The commission finds consumption of alcoholic beverages by minors at parties, or gatherings where minors consume alcoholic beverages, presents numerous problems for the City of Great Falls, Montana, minors, and law enforcement. Specifically:
    • Alcohol abuse is linked to numerous other health and life issues for our youth, including, but certainly not limited to, sexual assault, unprotected sexual activity, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, physical assault, and academic difficulties.
    • The commission of the City of Great Falls, Montana, further finds and declares that the purpose
      of the ordinance is:

      •  to protect public health, safety, and general welfare;
      • to enforce laws prohibiting the consumption of alcohol by minors;
      • to reduce the cost of providing police services to parties, gatherings, or events that call for a response by requiring that social hosts ensure minors are not consuming alcoholic beverages; and, under Montana Code Annotated §§ 7-1-4123 and 7-1-4124, the Great Falls City Commission has the legislative power, subject to the provisions of state law, to adopt, amend, and repeal ordinances and resolutions required to:
        • preserve the peace and order and secure freedom from dangerous and noxious activities; and,
        • secure and promote the general public health and welfare.