City developing rules for marijuana should voters opt to allow it in city limits

The City Commission is moving forward with plans to send the question of allowing marijuana businesses in the city limits to the November ballot.

Jeff Hindoien, city attorney, walked commissioners through the process again during their June 7 meeting.

Hindoien said that to send the question to the voters, the city needs to have actual proposed ordinance language.

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Currently, all marijuana operations are prohibited in the city limits since the zoning code prohibits land uses that are federally illegal, such as marijuana.

Montana voters in 2020 opted to legalize recreational marijuana, including is Cascade County. The county recently updated its zoning code to allow recreational dispensaries in heavy industrial districts, where medical marijuana dispensaries were already allowed in the county.

The question to voters on the November ballot from the city will be whether to prohibit the marijuana operations that are allowed by state law.

County attorney holds that petition required to send marijuana question to ballot

“We’re trying to keep this as simple and straightforward as we possibly can,” Hindoien told commissioners.

Independent of the ballot question, staff is also developing a regulatory framework for the commission to consider that would allow commercial marijuana businesses to operate within the city limits, Hindoien said.

The seven marijuana categories allowable under state law are medical marijuana dispensaries, adult-use dispensaries, cultivator, manufacturers, tribal licenses, testing labs and transporters.

If voters reject the ballot question to prohibit marijuana operations in the city, the regulatory framework would then become effective in the city.

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Hindoien said he’s planning to bring that regulatory framework to the commission at one or more work sessions this fall before bringing it to them for formal consideration.

Hindoien walked commissioners through some broad basic concepts for consideration regarding marijuana regulation.

Those potential options include:

  • allowing all marijuana business categories included in state law in certain specific zoning districts as a matter of right or with the conditional use permit process, such as allowing all seven categories in light and/or heavy industrial districts
  • special standards similar to casinos/bars, such as distances from schools, etc.
  • distinguish between business categories relative to existing zoning districts, such as certain uses allowed only in certain districts, such as dispensaries only allowed in commercial districts, or cultivation/manufacturing in industrial districts
  • creation of new zoning district or overlay
  • separate licensure requirement at municipal level with a cap on number of licenses

“Those are just big picture concepts,” to think about as they’re working on the regulatory framework, Hindoien said.

He said they’ll bring a resolution package to commissioner during their July 5 work session for a vote at the July 19 meeting.

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Some area residents asked the County Commission to also send the question to the November ballot for allowing marijuana operations in the county areas, but the county attorney’s office determined that they don’t have the authority to sent the question to the ballot and that it would require a petition by the people.

According to the Cascade County attorney’s office, a petition needs 15 percent of signatures of the number of people who voted in the last federal election. That equates to 7,569 signatures from actively registered voters to get the marijuana question on the ballot, according to the county elections office.

Rina Moore, the county elections official, said in May that her office has not seen a petition presented, which is the first step of the process. Once a petition is approved, they have 60 days to collect the necessary signatures under state law.

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If enough valid signatures are collected, county commissioners have to approve a resolution to put the issue on the ballot 85 days before the election, according to the county elections office.

Hindoien said that if a petition were to collect enough signatures for the county to send the question to the ballot, “it really is an odd deal” in terms of whether it negates the need for the city to have its question on the ballot or the process of changing the city’s rules.

As of June 7, there had been no lawsuits filed against the city regarding its prohibition of recreational marijuana in the city limits.

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The Yellowstone County Commissioners sent the question of marijuana to the ballot without a petition and last week, voters supported keeping recreational marijuana legal in the county.

Voters in Gallatin County approved a local option tax on recreational marijuana during the June 7 primary.

So far, the Cascade County Commission has indicated it will not pursue the local option tax on recreational marijuana in the county.