City adopts zoning rules, in case voters allow marijuana business operations on November ballot

City Commissioners approved regulations for marijuana business operations within the city limits.

The framework would only go into effect if the District Court finds that the city cannot prohibit marijuana activities as it currently does, or if the voters opt to allow marijuana activities in the city limits on the November ballot.

Proposed city marijuana sales regulations on Sept. 6 agenda

The version adopted by commissioners during their Sept. 7 meeting would amend city code to include state law definitions of authorized commercial marijuana activities; all commercial marijuana activities would be subject to state law licensure requirements; and those marijuana activities cannot be within 500 feet of and on the same street as a building used exclusively as a place of worship or school other than a commercially operated school, unless the locality requires a greater distance.

City votes to send marijuana question to the November ballot

They adopted regulations that would make:

  • dispensaries, testing laboratories would be allowed as a permitted use in either light or heavy industrial districts;
  • cultivation would be a conditional use in light industrial districts and a permitted use in heavy industrial districts;
  • manufacturing would be a permitted use only in the heavy industrial districts.

All land uses for marijuana, such as sales, cultivation, testing and other activities are currently prohibited in the city’s zoning code since the code prohibits any land uses that are prohibited by federal law.

The prohibition is in the city land use code and does not address the use or possession of marijuana by individuals. Those issues are covered under state law.

City planning board rejects proposed marijuana regulations

In November, city voters will be asked whether to maintain the current prohibition on marijuana operations or to allow them within the city limits.

The city is also in litigation with a local marijuana shop owner who wants to operate within the city and challenged the city’s prohibition. The city is awaiting a decision by the judge, which could be issued soon, according to City Attorney Jeff Hindoien.

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In August, some commissioners discussed a desire to expand the allowance of dispensaries to commercial and mixed use districts.

In response, staff updated the proposed regulations to include those districts.

In August, the city planning board voted not to recommend approval of those regulations, but did not make recommendations as to what the rules should be.

Locals petitioning to send marijuana question to November county ballot

During their Sept. 7 meeting, Commissioners Susan Wolff and Rick Tryon said they wanted to revert to the version that restricted marijuana operations to industrial districts to start.

Wolff said that they could expand it to other zoning districts later if needed, but it would be harder to walk it back if they adopted broader rules at the outset.

“We’re zoning it in a way that we can dip our toe in the water,” Wolff said.

Commissioners Eric Hinebauch and Joe McKenney said they wanted to treat marijuana dispensaries in a manner similar to off-premise alcohol sales or other retail.

County sending local marijuana tax question to November ballot

During the meeting, a handful of people spoke in favor of the broader zoning district allowances, but a number of people asked that commissioners restrict it to industrial districts should the court or voters say those operations should be allowed in the city.

Beth Morrison of Alliance for Youth said that there are 11 dispensaries in the county already and asked commissioners to consider a cap within the city and to increase the distance from schools and churches.

Dispensary owners file lawsuit challenging city prohibition of marijuana sales

Those asking the city to approve the version that would allow dispensaries within commercial or mixed use districts said they wanted to make marijuana more accessible to those with medical needs in particular.

The city enacted its marijuana prohibition in 2010 when the state legalized medical marijuana and that prohibition has not been challenged until this year, according to staff.

Mayor Bob Kelly attended the meeting by phone and said that they haven’t heard of issues regarding access since 2010 until now.

Marijuana, municipal judge questions likely going to November ballot

He said that voters approved the legalization of marijuana and that implies more access, but that he’s also been approached by a number of people asking that they consider the impact to the community’s youth.

Kelly said they haven’t heard an outpouring from the community asking to allow dispensaries in commercial areas and they could expand it to those areas in the future.

Commissioners voted 3-2 to amend the regulations to limit the allowance of marijuana operations in industrial districts.

City Commission upholds staff decision on dispensary, will send recreational marijuana to November ballot

Hinebauch and McKenney voted in opposition.

McKenney said that property owners should be able to use their property as they wish as long as the use is legal.

“What about the will of the voters, doesn’t that count? It counts,” he said.

Once the amendment passed, McKenney said he’d support it since that’s how the process works.

The version allowing marijuana only industrial districts passed 4-1, with Hinebauch opposed.

Currently, the county does not tax marijuana sales and that question will also be on the November ballot.

The County Commission voted earlier this year to send the question of a three percent local tax on marijuana sales to the November ballot. If approved, the county would retain 50 percent of the tax, the state would take 5 percent and the remaining 45 percent would be split between the incorporated municipalities of Great Falls, Belt, Cascade and Neihart, according to the county.

County holds that commercial marijuana operation in mixed use district is illegal

In June, the county attorney’s office told the County Commission that they estimate $1.6 million in marijuana sales monthly in Cascade County, of which the three percent tax would equate to about $50,000 countywide that would be split between the municipalities in the county.

Area residents were also gathering signatures on a petition to send a similar question of whether marijuana business operations should be allowed in the county to the November ballot. They failed to gather enough signatures, according to the county elections office.

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

Under the legal requirements, the petitioners needed to gather about 8,000 valid signatures.

As of Aug. 16, they had submitted 809, according to the elections office.