Cascade County commissioners voted unanimously to amend the text of the Cascade County subdivision regulations in light of legislative changes surrounding adult uses and medical marijuana land uses during a special meeting Friday.
Commissioner Joe Briggs said that voting begins with a 30-day period during which community members can comment before final passage.
The purpose of the amendments, found in the Planning Department’s Marijuana Land Use Report, is to modify the current language surrounding medical marijuana in the county to regulate the use of adult marijuana and medical marijuana for commercial and industrial uses within the designated Heavy Industrial District 1-2 District.
It comes after Ballot Initiatives I-190 and CI-118 passed last November, to legalize recreational marijuana for those 21 and older, both of which passed a majority in Cascade County. Then the Legislative Council passed HB 701 that outlined the specific regulations surrounding adult use of marijuana. The law enters into force as of January 1.
Resolution 21-59 I summarize the following:
- The legal transfer of marijuana or marijuana products in exchange for consideration, exchange, barter, gift, or offer for sale or distribution in any manner or by any means.
- Growing, growing, growing, harvesting and drying marijuana, this includes packaging and labeling marijuana at that location both indoors and outdoors.
marijuana cultivation facility
- A place and/or building, or part of it, that is used or intended to be used for the cultivation of live marijuana plants. The term includes, but is not limited to, outdoor area, greenhouses (greenhouses), cottages (houses), or similar structures(s).
In October, the county planning board Vote for the recommendation Planning department recommendations set out in staff report to county commissioners, with some modifications. The changes that were included were to use the definition of “marijuana business” rather than the definition of “marijuana use.” The changes also define the section on marijuana setbacks within 500 feet of schools or places of worship to read as “marijuana business setbacks,” and this section also amended “marijuana use” to “marijuana trade.” These changes were included in the resolution voted on Friday.
A public hearing was held before the committee’s vote on Friday. There were nine community members in opposition with one support person and two informational commentators.
Trisha Gardner, city and county health official, spoke in dissent citing the health effects of marijuana use including vascular disease and depression, as well as concerns about the foods’ appeal to children. The committee recommended that it take its time in making the decision.
Great Falls Public Schools Principal Tom Moore has also spoken out in dissent, saying that 215-220 children drop out of school annually and that the number one factor is the effect of drugs and alcohol.
Alliance for Youth Director Kristi Ponte Straub, speaking during a county planning meeting in October, reiterated her concerns about marijuana deregulation in townships in Cascade County and her desire for dispensaries to be within 1,000 feet of schools and places of worship.
Priscilla Azur, who also spoke during a planning meeting in October, said she grew up around marijuana users and saw the benefits that sick family members saw when using marijuana for medicinal purposes when fighting diseases like cancer and arthritis.
Speaking as a media witness, Cascade County Mayor Jesse Slaughter said this zoning regulation was “our best compromise”.
He said that marijuana was unique in that he could not think of another drug that was both recreational and medicinal, giving the example of alcohol being recreational and opioids being medicinal.
One potential problem with enforcement is the difference in taxation of medical marijuana versus recreational marijuana, Slaughter said, and he sees the potential for medical users to be sold to recreational users. Slaughter said there wasn’t much the commission could do on this front, but that the local tax would be something to consider.
Money collected from marijuana sales, a 20% sales tax on adult use of marijuana and
A 4% sales tax will be allocated to medical marijuana, according to the report:
- $6 million annually for addiction treatment services
- 20% to save
- 4%, up to $650,000 each, for parks, trails, recreational facilities, and wildlife protection
- $200,000 for Veterans Services and Veterans Cemetery Improvement
- $150,000 for police training
- Any remaining amount will go to the general account.
Commissioner Don Ryan said before introducing the motion for the resolution to be passed that this issue had been voted on in the community and passed.
Cascade County passed Initiative I-190 with 54.7% and CI-118 with 54.9%, and both initiatives have passed a majority of House counties, according to the report.
Ryan explained that this is not an income driver for the county because the state gets the money, but testing done on legally sold marijuana would make it safer. He also said that Cascade County has far fewer dispensaries than other parts of the state.
“I think we can be conservative with it but still follow the wishes of the county voters,” Ryan said.
Briggs said he was in office when the county first handled the traffic of medical marijuana and said they kept it in this particular industrial zone for a reason. He said he’s not a personal advocate of marijuana but that veterans have come to him and advocate for medicinal use. He said that when setting medical marijuana rules, he looked at other “adult businesses” such as adult video stores and liquor stores and deviated from their regulations. He said he would use zoning to organize it as best he could.
He said that zoning in the governorate does not affect zoning in cities and towns across the governorate.
Their division is superseding ours,” Briggs said.
He also said that limiting the number of licenses in the county would not be practical if the city decided to legalize it and then it would not be enforced.
As for the number of feet from schools and places of worship, Briggs said the planning department has required that the base go 500 feet by 1,000 feet to align with state law. By turning back, he said, the county would punish people who made the investment by complying.
Briggs asked Cascade County Deputy District Attorney Carrie Ann Height if there could be an age requirement to be on marijuana company premises.
Height said it wasn’t something she specifically looked at, but she said the same applies to similar businesses.
Briggs said it would be something to look at in the 30-day period.
Nicole Gerten is a government watchdog reporter for the Great Falls Tribune. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. To support coverage of Great Falls and Cascade County, sign up for Tribune by finding the “Sign Up” link at the top of the page.