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Helena City Commission endorses regulations on medical marijuana businesses

HELENA – The Helena City Commission has given initial approval to new rules on where medical marijuana businesses can operate in the city.

The commission held a public hearing Monday on two proposed ordinances that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries in areas zoned for commercial and industrial uses.

Grow operations would be allowed in industrial areas, but only with a conditional use permit.

The rules would also say that a dispensary has to be at least 500 feet from the nearest school campus boundary.

A grow operation would have to be 1,000 feet from any school property or residential areas.

Finally, the ordinances would prohibit people from running any marijuana businesses out of their homes.

The Helena Zoning Commission unanimously approved the proposed ordinances last month.

“The time and effort that the city staff and the zoning commission put to this – to really solicit feedback, as well as think through what made the most sense and what limitations we should be thinking about – I feel good about where the zoning commission came down and the recommendations to us,” said Commissioner Heather O’Loughlin.

The proposed rules come after several months of review.

The process was sparked last year when the city annexed some properties on Helena’s west side – including one on Winston Street that already had a working dispensary.

Helena had a longstanding code that said it could not license any business that was permitted under state law but not under federal law. That meant medical marijuana businesses couldn’t operate in city limits.

But the city commission voted to suspend the rule for six months, allowing the dispensary to keep operating while they decided whether to adopt more specific rules.

“We do try to assure people that are annexed into the city that we are not doing it in a punitive way,” said Commissioner Ed Noonan. “So the discussion was called for.”

The zoning commission organized public meetings to get feedback on how medical marijuana businesses should be regulated.

Community development director Sharon Haugen said most people supported allowing them but restricting where they could be located.

No members of the public testified for or against the proposals during Monday’s meeting.

Noonan said medical marijuana is in place in Montana, and it was time for Helena to come to terms with that.

“I’m glad to see that we’re recognizing what the citizens of Montana have approved on two different occasions,” he said.

The commission is expected to vote on final passage of the new ordinances next month.

-Jonathon Ambarian reporting for MTN News

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