First legal marijuana dispensary planned for west side of Great Falls

The city planning office is currently reviewing an application for the first marijuana dispensary in the city limits.

Top Shelf Botanicals, which operates dispensaries throughout the state, submitted an application for a minor renovation to a space in The Wheat Building at 750 6th St. S.W. opposite Howard’s Pizza.

The site is zoned heavy industrial, which meets the existing city requirements for marijuana dispensaries in the city limits.

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Earlier this year, City Commissioners adopted an ordinance that 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.

Those rules went into effect in October, after a district court judge ruled that the city could not prohibit marijuana operations outright, but the judge did state the city could regulate their operations by ordinance.

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Two other dispensary operators have attempted to open in the city limits, but chose property in zoning districts that do not allow dispensaries under the new rules. One of those operators filed another lawsuit arguing that if the city had processed their application when it was submitted, when all marijuana business operations were prohibited under city code, that they would have been allowed to operate in their commercially zoned space, before the new rules went into effect. That case is pending in district court.

The Top Shelf application is the only one currently under review and city staff has not approved any other dispensaries in the city limits, according to the city planning office.

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Jackee Beck, from Top Shelf Botanicals, said they have a strategic plan with a list of towns they want to operate within and Great Falls had been on that list since the beginning. They watched the rules in Great Falls and followed the discussion closely as city officials began considering changing the zoning rules and sending the question to the November ballot.

She said when she heard of the potential for dispensaries to operate within Great Falls city limits, she immediately called the city planning office to get details.

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“Great Falls being one of the largest cities in Montana has the least amount of dispensaries per capita. It just makes sense to establish there,” she told The Electric.

Beck said that it was a process finding a location in Great Falls, as it is in any town.

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“I like to work with the appropriate city boards and not against them, this is a sensitive subject and being
open and upfront from the beginning is the only way to go about it. I will tell you that the Great Falls administration as
been the absolute best to work with and I would like to thank them again for that,” Beck told The Electric. “Although the new zones were opened there was still limited space available.”

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She said they don’t have an opening date yet as finding the location is just the first step in the process. Once the city approves the renovation, they’ll work with Great Falls Fire Rescue for a safety inspection certificate and possibly need a sign permit through planning. The company will also have to go through the state licensing process, which is more complex, according to city officials.

Tom Micuda, deputy city planning director, said he’s had multiple calls about possible dispensaries, but the proposal from Top Shelf Botanicals was the first to be properly zoned.

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Beck said the marijuana industry is changing daily and it’s hard to predict how it will evolve in Great Falls.

“I think Great Falls is doing a great job at moving forward a little at a time while being cautions of the sensitivity of the subject all while realizing it’s inevitable,” Beck said. “Rather than turning a blind eye, they are addressing issues ahead of time and staying on top of the rules and regulations. If there are issues or questions they are quick to find answers.”