A City Council committee has recommended that Havre place a 90-day moratorium on new businesses needing a zoning variance as a way to keep any more growing operations and medical marijuana dispensaries from opening their doors within the city before general zoning issues can be resolved. At a Tuesday meeting of the Planning and Development Committee, members voted unanimously to place a 90-day moratorium on itinerant vendors selling medical marijuana. Committee Chairperson Janet Trethewey brought before the committee a constituent's concern that people might be able to bring in a van and dispense medical marijuana from it on the street or in a parking lot. According to city code, itinerant vendors, or people selling wares from a mobile booth, must pay a $100 business license fee to the city, post a $1,000 bond and be subject to inspection and regulation. As the code is written, "I would say it would not preclude that, unfortunately," committee member Andrew Brekke said. Considering a ban Several people at the meeting requested that the city do away with medical marijuana period and institute a ban on all marijuana regardless of its use. "Other places are doing it," said Bob Kaul, who is a City Council member but attended the meeting as a citizen. "We can do it." He also proposed that a bond be placed on grow operations to be used if the site must be environmentally cleaned after the businesses close. He suggested partnering with Hill County to ban the drug county-wide, a suggestion that drew applause. Kathy Sangray agreed with Kaul but left open the option of still allowing patients to grow their own marijuana. The initiative was passed with the understanding that there would be no measurable cost, but now taxpayers are footing the bill for administrative costs and law enforcement, she said, also drawing applause when she said that medical marijuana should not become big business. One way to offset the cost of law enforcement and regulation would be to have an additional fee for a business license for grow operations and dispensaries, said Trethewey. A larger fee, anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000, could be charged and then given to a law enforcement agency to use to regulate and monitor the operations, she added. "Zoning is not going to kill the beast that the voters of Montana released," Rip Steckel said, urging committee members to take a stand against medical marijuana. Trygve "Spike" Magelssen asked committee members to remember that marijuana for any purpose is illegal under federal law. The Obama administration has stated that it will not pursue cases involving small amounts of marijuana, he said. But what happens when their stance changes or the next administration takes a different stand, he asked. Having a business license would help the city get a grasp on what businesses are within its confines, Brekke said, and would be helpful when looking at what to do about zoning in general, and also about zoning for medical marijuana businesses. He said he does not oppose banning marijuana on all levels of use, but also said he's not sure that taxpayers would be willing to pay for a lawsuit. Zoning can be used to limit and regulate medical marijuana, he said. Also, adding that businesses must abide by all state and federal laws to the wording on a business license would effectively ban medical marijuana businesses, he said. "I would be more apt to handle something like that," Brekke said. "I do believe, though, that we will have a legal problem between the federal law and the state law, and I do believe that we need to take a stand. I agree with that," he said. "But I'm not sure that Havre wants to be the first one to go to federal court and have our tax payer dollars do that." At the same time, Brekke acknowledged that perhaps the taxpayers do want to challenge the law through the courts and pay for it. While the committee has already decided on their recommendation for a moratorium and not an out-and-out ban, more discussion on the issue will take place before full Council votes on the recommendation Monday at 7 p.m. in City Hall.
Panel backs 90-day stay on zoning variances
Plan aimed at curbing medical marijuana
Published: Wednesday, March 31st, 2010
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