By Michael Howell
The emergency ordinances passed by Hamilton and Stevensville to control the location of medical marijuana dispensaries in the respective municipalities have both expired. But city officials are not worried for a number of reasons.
Hamilton’s interim emergency ordinance, enacted in March 2011, required medical marijuana dispensaries or storefronts to be located in commercial building zones. That emergency ordinance was only effective for six months and has expired.
The legal landscape of the medical marijuana laws is currently in flux. The new law passed by the legislature, replacing the previous law developed by citizen initiative, has been challenged in court and some of its provisions have already been put on hold by the courts. At the same time an effort to replace the current law altogether with a new citizen initiative is in full swing. City Attorney Karen Mahar gave the council an update on the status of the laws at a recent meeting.
Mahar noted that the current law passed by the legislature became effective on July 1, 2011, but since then a preliminary injunction has been issued in District Court enjoining the government from enforcing several provisions of the new law because they may be in violation of the Constitution. The case has been appealed to the Montana Supreme Court. Also pending, she said, is the potential success of a citizen’s referendum that may change the whole ball game once again.
In the meantime, she said, “we do have a currently enforceable act excepting the provisions that have been enjoined.” Portions of the new law that remain in effect require that medical marijuana users must have a defined condition and meet the law’s screening criteria. Patients must have a medical marijuana card in their possession and cannot get a card retroactively after being cited for not having one. The number of plants providers are allowed to grow has been restricted. The law also requires that cultivation of the plant cannot be visible from the street. It also allows the passage of regulations for controlling food products and storefronts.
At the current time, she said, no regulation of food stuffs is pending.
She said that possibilities of addressing the issue include another interim zoning ordinance or a permanent ordinance to the same effect.
Special Projects Director Dennis Stranger said that, in his opinion, there was no need to rush into a new interim ordinance. He advised taking the time to prepare a permanent ordinance or just waiting until the Supreme Court rules on the current lawsuit.
The Council took no action.
Stevensville’s Interim Emergency Zoning Ordinance prohibiting the opening of any medical marijuana dispensaries in town and within a mile of the town limits has also expired. The council tried to take action to initiate an extension of the ordinance before it expired but failed to do so. The effort to advertise a public hearing in the daily newspaper in time to hold the hearing prior to the expiration deadline was unsuccessful. As a result the ordinance will expire before it can be extended.
Mayor Gene Mim Mack said there was no reason to be concerned. He said that no one was rushing to open new medical marijuana dispensaries due to the uncertainties involved in the pending court case and the looming public referendum which could change the game for everyone. He said the federal government’s turn around on its enforcement policy and subsequent crackdown on many medical marijuana operations and dispensaries has had a major chilling effect on the new industry that would probably continue for some time.