People on both sides of the medical marijuana issue in Havre spoke their minds Tuesday, but the Havre Planning and Development Committee temporarily halted the debate when they voted to place a 90-day moratorium on granting new variances for businesses in town. Committee members also agreed to look into forming a citizens' committee to collaborate with in the decision-making process. The moratorium will prohibit any business that needs a zoning variance to locate anywhere in the city for the next 90 days. Because medical marijuana grow operations and dispensaries are not mentioned anywhere in current zoning regulations, the moratorium applies to any new operations wishing to open in the city. Committee members also discussed requiring a business permit of all businesses in the city to know what businesses are operating where. Currently no permits are required and so unless a business owner comes to the city, the city has no way to track any business. "It isn't stopping businesses. That's the last thing I'd want to do," said committee member Andrew Brekke. The pause will give the committee time to look at zoning ordinances as a whole and figure out where medical marijuana fits in the larger scheme of things, he said. "There are other problems out there," he said. "This issue applies no matter what the business is." Havre can lengthen the moratorium if necessary, Brekke said, but added that he didn't think the full six months allowed by state law would be required. Rick Cecil, a medical marijuana user, agreed with the moratorium. "I really appreciate your wisdom" in realizing that there is a zoning issue, he told committee members. He questioned that medical marijuana operations are much different than prescription medication factories. "How many of you take pain pills?" He said. "Is that the next step?" Businesses shouldn't disrupt neighborhoods, he said, be it for traffic or noise or any number of other issues associated with them. But people misusing prescribed medicines is a law enforcement issue, he said. Kathy Sangray also agreed with placing a moratorium, although in her comments, she requested that it be placed on existing operations as well. She said that regardless of the people who use marijuana for valid reasons, "this drug is still being abused." Law enforcement and Hill County representatives should be included in the discussions about regulating medical marijuana, she said, to make sure that families are safe. Brad Sangray, who works with the Montana Highway Patrol, said that peoPle are taking advantage of loopholes in the law to now legally do what they have been doing illegally for years. "What is actually happening is not what was intended by the law," he said. He also asked for a complete moratorium. Mike Anderson, a Hill County Commissioner who spoke during the meeting who is also the chairman of the Montana Board of Crime Control, applauded the committee for their work. After the meeting he said that medical marijuana is legal, but that how to deal witåh it is not clear. "We need to very slowly, but deliberately, look at every aspect of this," he said. Marijuana was legalized for medicinal use as an emotional issue, he said, but the law has too many loopholes. "And they're exploiting those loopholes in the law," he said. Applications have skyrocketed, with more than 1,500 a day being received by the state, he said, speculating that not all of those are for legitimate purposes. The vague nature of the law makes it difficult to enforce, he added, and marijuana for any use is still illegal under federal law even though President Barack Obama has said that he does not want cases prosecuted. "The problem is law enforcement is just as confused as the rest of them," he said. Trygve "Spike" Magelssen asked the committee to remember that the federal law supersedes state law. The use of medical marijuana might be legal in Montana, "but in reality, it's illegal," he said. "Let us not forget the law of the land in our decision making," he said. Dr. Cameron Parham, who practices emergency medical care, said she has seen a "tremendous amount of destruction in the Havre community" because of marijuana. People are being encouraged to try to obtain a user card, she said, meaning that growers get more money. She said she's glad that people voted for compassion and personal freedom, but that people who OK'd the 2004 initiative did not think the issue would turn into what it has. Georgina Kaftan has experienced some of the destruction that Parham referred to first hand through family members and friends. She shared stories of suicides and prostitution, choking up during her comments. She doesn't want to downplay the suffering that many users go through, she said, but at the same time, people need to be aware of the other side of the drug. "It is devastating," she said. Brian Frey told committee members that he is a cancer survivor, but because he doesn't have any symptoms and is a recovering drug addict, he will not use medical marijuana. However, if his cancer returns, he said he definitely would use marijuana. He acknowledged that people might misuse the drug. "There are always going to be people with the wrong motives," he said, but there is no way to completely control that. Medical marijuana users are not broadcasting it to the public, just like people with prescriptions for pain pills are not flaunting their medicine. "You've got to be responsible with it," he said. A compromise needs to be reached to ensure the most benefits with the least negative impacts on the community, he said, suggesting a solution that operations be in a state-run facility with security provided to alleviate safety concerns. Rip Steckel looked at the issue from a business-owner point of view, saying that he would not want to hire someone with a user card because of potential safety risks. He sells firearms and must be open with his business, he said, questioning that medical marijuana operations should be allowed a degree of privacy. "If privacy's an issue, then there's a real question about the validity of this business," he said. Full Council will vote on the moratorium Monday, April 5, at 7 p.m. in City Hall.
90-day moratorium proposed on Havre zoning variances
Plan draws support from both sides of med.- marijuana issue
Published: Wednesday, March 17th, 2010
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