Limitations, not prohibition

County jumps into medical marijuana dispensary issue
By: 
Mikaela Koski
Thursday, October 11, 2018

Stillwater County is ready to dive into the topic of medical marijuana via regulations on storefront locations.

At Tuesday’s regularly scheduled Still-water County Commissioners’ agenda meeting, a draft of proposed regulations was read aloud as a resolution of intent.

PROPOSED REGULATIONS

The regulations proposed by the county deal with where dispensaries and storefronts can be located within the county. Because the City of Columbus is an incorporated town, the county has no jurisdictional authority within city limits, thus the regulations would not apply in Columbus. The regulations would go into effect for all of the other towns in the county.

While the final language of the regulations has yet to be approved by the commissioners, the proposed regulations presented on Tuesday give a good sense of what type of regulations to expect from the county.

The regulations focus on restricting where a physical dispensary building can be located. State law dictates that a license for a storefront can be denied if it is located “within 500 feet of and on the same street as a building used exclusively as a church, synagogue, or other place of worship or as a school or postsecondary school other than a commercially operated school,” according to MCA 50-46-312.

The county’s regulations expand upon that to prohibit storefronts in the instances mentioned in state law, as well as those located within 500 feet of a preschool, property owned or leased by a school district that is being used for school functions, or a public park or recreation center.

LIMITATIONS, NOT PROHIBITION

At Tuesday’s agenda meeting, Rohde explained that the county’s proposed regulations are not intended to prohibit medical marijuana or infringe upon licensed medical marijuana providers. The regulations are intended to give the county authority to regulate the location of dispensaries and storefront locations.

Crago echoed that sentiment, saying the county is not questioning the value of medical marijuana, rather, the goal is to ensure that dispensaries are strategically located to serve customers while not adversely impacting others.

Richard Abromeit and Jason Smith, co-owners of the Montana Advanced Caregivers dispensary in Billings, were in attendance, and invited the commissioners to tour their facility to learn more about how dispensaries operate.

Smith thanked the commissioners for “not coming to a rash decision” and not attempting to prohibit medical marijuana. He said he understands the concerns regarding the location of dispensaries, and at first glance the county’s proposed regulations seemed acceptable, as they closely mirrored state law.

Stillwater County resident Jim Pearson spoke about his experience renting a portion of the building he owns in Billings to a cannabis provider. He noted that the business, as well as its customers, are good tenants.

Pearson has never had any issues with odors, disruptions, or people loitering. He noted that medical marijuana is closely regulated by the state, and Pearson feels it has been stigmatized.

POSTPONED, FOR NOW

The county’s resolution of intent regarding medical marijuana location regulations, if approved, would begin the ordinance process. This would include two readings of the regulations and the acceptance of public comments by the commissioners before a decision was made.

After the regulations were read on Tuesday morning, Commissioner Maureen Davey raised some questions about the content and specific wording in the resolution. She noted that she was not in attendance at a recent meeting with Still-water County Attorney Nancy Rohde regarding the regulations, so Davey felt she did not have enough information to be comfortable making a decision on the regulations yet.

The vote on a motion to pass the resolution of intent failed, with Commissioners Davey and Dennis Shupak voting against, and Commissioner Mark Crago abstaining. A subsequent motion to postpone a decision until all of the commissioners’ questions are answered passed unanimously.

Montana law gives a local government the authority to regulate medical marijuana providers that operate within its jurisdiction “to protect the public health, safety, or welfare,” according to MCA 50-46-328. This authority expressly includes the possibility that a local government could completely prohibit dispensaries and storefront locations.

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