Whitefish Delays Vote on Medical Marijuana Regulations

By Beacon Staff

The Whitefish City Council voted to delay a decision on establishing conditional-use permit criteria and zoning regulations for medical marijuana at a May 17 public meeting. The council is expected to consider the issue again at a later date.

At the same meeting, the council voted unanimously to extend a moratorium on medical marijuana businesses for one additional year to June 6, 2011. The council had originally adopted a six-month moratorium on all medical marijuana business within the city on Dec. 7, 2009.

The temporary ban is designed to keep the status quo until the city can establish permanent regulations for medical marijuana businesses. But establishing those regulations is proving to be tricky for the council as it grapples with the same questions facing other towns in light of Montana’s medical marijuana boom.

At last week’s meeting, the council considered a marijuana zoning proposal that had been recommended for approval by the planning board. After holding public workshops in January and February, the planning board held a joint work-session with city council to decide the best way of governing medical marijuana.

Following the work session, the planning board held a public hearing and determined that it’s in the best interest of the city to allow medical marijuana dispensaries through a strict case-by-case, conditional-use permit process, only in the WB-2 Secondary Business District and WB-4 zones on the outskirts of town.

The planning board also recommended setback requirements from residential zones, schools, churches and other entities.

But the council was unable to come to a consensus on the planning board’s recommendation, citing various concerns, including whether the setback requirements were appropriate and whether it would be improper to approve of medical marijuana when it’s restricted by federal law.