Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Alex Ross 

Committee continues discussion on pot storefronts


September 20, 2017

The Havre City Council Ordinance Committee held its second meeting discussing medical marijuana dispensaries Tuesday night at  City Hall.

The committee members, city officials and members of the public talked  about whether medical marijuana storefront dispensaries within city limits should be banned, or regulated through zoning.  

Council President and Ordinance Committee Chair Andrew Brekke said at the opening of the meeting that the city was not debating whether to ban medical marijuana, but about storefront dispensaries that advertise that they sell marijuana.

“We are not here to debate medical marijuana, we talked about that.” Brekke said. “It is definitely a concept and it is germane to the subject, but we can’t regulate medical marijuana.”

He said that since the last meeting in August, Billings City Council voted to reaffirm their ban on advertising medical marijuana store fronts within their city. Great Falls, Helena and Kalispell have all discussed bans.

Bozeman, Brekke said, is the only class one city in Montana that allows advertised store front dispensaries. In Bozeman, the number of storefront dispensaries is limited to 20.

Brekke added that all dispensaries must have a business license and comply with Montana Department of Montana Public Health and Human Services guidelines.

Other communities, Brekke said, have either not taken action or, like Havre, do not have any zoning ordinance in place for or against dispensaries.

“It’s a new type of business,” he said. “It has only been around in the last 10 years in Montana, so we haven’t had any reason to zone for it.”

Brekke said he personally prefers banning the advertised storefront dispensaries outright because it is “the clearest legal option.”

Committee member Caleb Hutchins asked in what buildings people could provide marijuana to people with a valid marijuana card.

Brekke said dispensaries could be located just about anywhere but not have signage, adding that providers could still meet with people by appointment or other arrangements,

Billings still has providers, Brekke said, and Yellowstone County has 62 providers.

He said the lack of advertising is not stopping the numbers, which continue to rise.

Committee member Karen Swenson asked what that would mean for the city’s status when it comes to federal grants.

Havre Police Chief Gabe Matosich said that because under federal law all marijuana including medical marijuana is illegal, allowing storefronts could jeopardize $391,000 in funding to the Havre Police Department.

Matosich said Havre Police have several pending investigations into cardholders in the city.

Mayor Tim Solomon said that when the city takes a grant they must agree to abide by federal law and allowing store front dispensaries would defy federal law.

Marc Whitacre said the Montana Medical Marijuana Act prohibits medical marijuana patients and providers from any kind of advertising including electronic advertising.

He added that Montana law also prohibits a dispensary from being located within 500 feet or in the same building as a house of worship or school.

A new dispensary has recently opened across from the building that houses the Arc Church, which would be 500 feet from a church, Whitacre said.

Matosich said police are looking into that dispensary and if it is in violation of the law.

Whitacre also said state law does allow a city to put additional regulations on the  number of dispensaries in a city including the number of dispensaries.

Brekke said the city can, under its public health codes declare a public health emergency. However, he does not think such a move would hold up in court.

Kim Faechner, owner of Green ReLeaf, a storefront dispensary on Second Street West in Havre, said that while the council can regulate the sale of medical marijuana dispensaries and users, that authority should be used with constraint.

She said if providers broke laws related to distance from churches or schools they should have their dispensaries shut down.

Faechner said her business is in compliance with the law and regulations and that medial marijuana provides benefits to people with a number of ailments including PTSD and cancer.

“We and our patients simply want the same respect and consideration as the rest of our community,” Faechner said. “Our patients deserve to go to a signed building to obtain their medicine.”

Another Ordinance Committee meeting on the issue is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct 11, at 7 p.m at Havre City Hall.


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