The prospect of medical marijuana businesses popping up in Whitefish has the city weighing a temporary emergency ordinance banning them, an indication of the long road still ahead in legitimizing medical marijuana in Montana.
After the city received a few inquiries from people interested in opening marijuana clinics, but not formal applications, the Whitefish City Council directed staff to draft an ordinance banning all such operations for six months while the council figures out how to appropriately zone for medical marijuana.
"Where do they fit in with existing zoning? How do they tie in?" asks Whitefish Planning Director Dave Taylor. "If it is like a medical clinic that's one thing. I've read that some of these have manufacturing on-site, and so is that a semi-industrial use? It gets a little tricky."
The council will vote on the ordinance Monday, Dec. 7.
If it passes, The Healing Center of Montana, which operates medical marijuana collectives in four Montana cities, and hopes to open one soon in Kalispell or Whitefish, plans to file suit.
"If they try to zone us out or enact a moratorium we would file whatever we need to to stop it," says The Healing Center's Michael Smith. "If they want to zone us anywhere it would have to be into the medical corridor, because this is medical."
Smith says the lawsuit would challenge the council's power to limit a citizen's right to access their medicine. The group also threatened to sue Billings when it considered a similar ordinance last month, which would have zoned medical marijuana businesses in the same way it zones some adult businesses. The Billings council voted unanimously to table the ordinance Nov. 9.
"There's no real model at this point," says Taylor. "I think all of these different communities are kind of scrambling. I don't think anybody wants to deny people's right to get the medicine they need, but it does probably need to be in the appropriate location."