The Planning and Development Committee planned on discussing issues with Havre's zoning but never made it that far and, instead, amended a proposed ordinance that will place a moratorium on new medical marijuana grow operations and dispensaries in the city. After hearing public comment questioning how the city would be able to verify what businesses will have been in operation before the moratorium goes into effect, committee members voted unanimously to require currently operating grow operations and dispensaries to report to the city their location and number of patients. The state law, based on an initiative passed in 2004 by 62 percent of voters, guarantees privacy to medical marijuana operations, but without knowing what operations are in Havre, council cannot grandfather their operations, and several committee members voiced their concerns that the ordinance as written is unenforceable. "I don't think we can control this," committee member Pam Hillery said about grandfathering businesses. The city can't operate in fear of lawsuits, "but we can't do it if we don't know," she said. Growers, called caregivers under state law, must go through a registration process with the state Department of Public Health and Human Services. That department also holds records of registered patients and who their caregivers are. Whoever the caregivers must report to at the city can verify that they are indeed registered and make sure that the number of patients they list is correct. Law enforcement officials, who have been included in side discussions and who will be charged with enforcing the ordinance, have not sat at the table during actual meetings. "They have indicated that they know more than we do" about operations in the city, committee Chairperson Janet Trethewey said. "We didn't want to put the cart before the horse" until it was certain what form the ordinance would take, she added. At least one medical marijuana grow operation has been in operation in Havre for years, Hillery said, and the city didn't realize that it was. "Clearly we're not on top of this situation," she said. "They need to be upfront," said Allen "Woody" Woodwick, a member of the committee and council president. In general, "we need to have some control over what businesses are coming to Havre," he said. Later, issues like deciding if business permits should be required of every business in the city and whether medical marijuana businesses within certain distances from schools will have to move, will be addressed. Committee members wanted to take the proposed ordinance a step further and limit the distance operations can be from schools, but chose not to after receiving legal advice. A state law regulates the distance that establishments serving alcohol must be from schools, but there is no such law for marijuana said the lawyer, who was called into the meeting after it began. When the city discusses the broader issue of zoning, council can establish certain areas where medical marijuana operations would be allowed based on zoning regulations, the lawyer added. "Nothing's set in concrete," Trethewey said. "But we've got to do something first." The moratorium, which would prohibit new medical marijuana businesses from opening doors in Havre and limit current operations to the number of plants allowed by law for the number of patients they have the date the ordinance becomes effective, would give the committee and the full council time to research different manners of dealing with how best to regulate medical marijuana. "So basically we're going to put things on hold until (the Legislature is) done," Trethewey said. But committee member Andrew Brekke questioned how effective the state can be at solving local problems with medical marijuana. If the city is too restrictive in how it regulates medical marijuana operations, it could be opening itself up to a lawsuit, Brekke said, and while he doesn't want a lawsuit, sometimes the city needs to take a stand. Mark Stolen, a retired law enforcement officer, called on local government to take the lead on the issue instead of waiting on the Legislature to revisit the law. "What is wrong with setting something down that maybe the state will follow?" He said.
Proposed medical marijuana moratorium amended
Published: Wednesday, April 21st, 2010
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