Whitefish Tables Vote on Medical Marijuana

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – On Tuesday night, the Whitefish City Council voted unanimously to table a proposal that would have outlined zoning regulations and conditional-use permit criteria for medical marijuana operations within city limits.

It was the second time the council has delayed voting on the regulations, the first coming at a May 17 meeting. The city currently has a moratorium on all medical marijuana businesses effective until June 6, 2011.

The council said it would like to see how the medical marijuana dilemma plays out in other Montana cities, particularly municipalities with pending litigation. It also wants City Attorney Mary VanBuskirk to research the issue further.

“I’m still as confused as I was in May,” said Councilor Turner Askew.

At the same May 17 meeting when it first considered the zoning regulations, the council voted to extend a moratorium on medical marijuana businesses. The moratorium had first been adopted on Dec. 7, 2009 as a six-month prohibition. With the time limit about to expire, the council opted to extend the moratorium for another year.

The council, if it chooses, can again extend the moratorium next June for one additional year.

From January to April, the Whitefish City-County Planning Board held workshops and public hearings to plot out suggested zoning regulations and governing standards for medical marijuana dispensaries, home caregivers and growing operations within the city.

The planning board concluded that the best areas in town to locate dispensaries are the WB-2 and WB-4 zoning districts. The WB-2 district comprises the U.S. Highway 93 commercial strip from Mountain West Bank to Highway 40, while the WB-4 zone is the business park district located at the Baker Commons next to the Wave and new Emergency Services Center.

The planning board recommended that dispensaries be allowed only with conditional-use permits in these designated zones. And it outlined certain guidelines, such as a 200-foot buffer from entities such as schools, libraries and churches.

The recommended plan was passed on to the council, where councilors voiced multiple concerns, including whether approving something that is illegal at the federal level violates their oaths of offices, police worries over enforcement and more.

After lengthy discussion, the council voted at the May 17 meeting to delay its decision. Then on July 6, with public comment closed, the council spoke briefly on the matter, reiterating some of its previously mentioned concerns, before voting to table its decision until a later date.