None of Ravalli County’s three largest incorporated towns currently allow the sale of medical marijuana within town limits.
That will change in Hamilton on Jan. 1, when a new state law will allow adults to purchase recreational cannabis at licensed dispensaries.
The Hamilton City Council approved zoning changes last week that establishes two areas inside the city where licensed marijuana dispensaries will be allowed under certain conditions.
Both Darby and Stevensville currently are in a holding pattern and won’t allow the sale of recreational marijuana inside town limits for the time being.
Hamilton City Planner Matthew Rohrbach said the city’s zoning commission and council have been working for several months on local regulations and guidelines for different marijuana businesses, including dispensaries and marijuana manufacturers.
Commercial marijuana cultivation will not be allowed inside city limits.
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Hamilton currently does not allow medical marijuana dispensaries to set up shop in town, but under the updated ordinances marijuana can be sold by licensed businesses in commercially zoned areas along Highway 93 and the downtown business district.
Under state law, the marijuana dispensaries can not be located within 500 feet of and on the same street as a church or school. Since there are a couple of churches on Hamilton’s Main Street, a marijuana dispensary won’t be allowed within 500 feet of those on Main Street, but they can establish businesses on side streets.
Marijuana dispensaries also are not allowed to be within 200 feet of another dispensary.
The new state law only allows current medical marijuana businesses that were licensed before Nov. 2, 2020, to apply for an adult-use license.
According to the Montana Department of Revenue, there are currently 21 medical marijuana licensed businesses in Ravalli County. It’s not clear on how many of those will apply for a license to sell recreational marijuana.
Rohrbach said the city of Hamilton has received inquiries about the potential of setting up a recreational marijuana business, but “nothing serious yet. It’s been more just people wanting to know what our regulations are.”
The zoning commission and city council focused on crafting regulations that respect the will of the voters — more than 60% of Hamilton voters cast ballots in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana use — and mitigating potential impacts of the new businesses to the community, Rohrbach said.
“It’s tricky,” he said. “It’s kind of a new frontier. We’re all trying to figure out how to do this on a statewide and municipal level. We are looking at what our voters said while also looking at what the potential impacts could be to the community and making sure that those are being mitigated.”
“I don’t know what to expect but I do feel some level of comfort knowing that we at least have our local regulatory process in place for the Jan. 1 deadline,” Rohrbach said.
In Darby, the town council passed a 90-day emergency ordinance on Nov. 23 that will continue the current status that does not allow for the sale of medical or recreational marijuana inside the town limits.
“The emergency ordinance will give everyone more time to work on it,” said Darby Mayor Ruth Lendrum. “The town council felt like we needed more time to consider what we are going to do.”
“I’ve printed all 153 pages of the law just to be able to get the sense of it,” she said. “We understand what it says and what we have to do. We will be following the law, but it does take time for these things to work their way through.”
Darby is the only larger community in Ravalli County that doesn’t have a medical marijuana dispensary on its outskirts.
Stevensville Mayor Brandon Dewey said the town council has not talked about the issue recently.
“We do have regulations on the books that do prohibit dispensaries in the city,” Dewey said. “Our business licensing ordinance requires that a business who is applying for a license must be compliant under state and federal laws. Because federal law still regulates marijuana in the way that it does, a dispensary would have their application denied.”
“Until federal law changes, a dispensary would not be given a business license to operate in Stevensville,” Dewey said.
Ravalli County Commissioner Jeff Burrows said the county commission has not discussed the issue of recreational marijuana dispensaries.