Commissioners pass County Ordinance on Marijuana Dispensaries
January 8, 2020
After a nearly hour-long public hearing on a zoning ordinance to prohibit the licensing, opening, or operation of any medical marijuana business in Phillips County on December 30, the Phillips County Commissioners on Friday, January 3, passed Ordinance Number 2019-102, according to a press release from the Commissioner’s Office.
“The Phillips County Commissioners met on December 30, 2019 to receive comment and consider the passage of a zoning ordinance which would prohibit the licensing, opening, or operation of any business that grows, sells, or distributes medical marijuana or paraphernalia within Phillips County outside the incorporated boundaries of Malta, Saco, and Dodson,” the release states. “After conducting its investigation and considering the public comment it had received from all of the hearings it conducted, the Phillips County Commission passed Ordinance Number 2019-102 determining that such businesses could be immediately detrimental to, harmful to, and a threat to the peace, property, health, safety, and welfare of the County and its inhabitants, and can, through such an effect, create a public nuisance.”
The release also states the t Phillips County Commission previously passed two Interim Zoning Ordinances similar to the current ordinance which have been in effect for the previous two years.
At the Monday, December 30 public hearing, County Commissioners Richard Dunbar, Bruce Christofferson, and John Carnahan were present, as was Phillips County Clerk and Recorder Lynnel LaBrie, Phillips County Sheriff Jerry Lytle, Phillips County Justice of the Peace Gail Stahl, Phillips County Attorney Edward A. Amestoy along with just under 20 members of the public.
Attorney Amestoy was asked to explain the proposed ordinance and clear up any misconceptions that people may have. He said that if passed the ordinance would only prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from opening in the unincorporated areas of Phillips County and not the City of Malta or towns of Dodson and Saco. Attorney Amestoy said the proposed ordinance that has been in place for the past two years and if passed would make the ordinance permanent instead of temporary.
“This will really be the fourth time that the Commissioners have taken oral testimony and oral hearings on this particular matter,” he said. “The third time for zoning and one other time regarding the creation of a public nuisance.”:
Attorney Amestoy concluded by stating that the Montana Medical Marijuana Act allows local governing bodies to set zoning requirements for medical marijuana dispensaries.
JOP Stahl came out in favor of the ordinance being passed by the County Commissioners. She said that she has sat in the JOP chair in Phillips County for 38 years and has seen that marijuana is gateway drug to harder, more dangerous drugs.
“If one of my doctors told me that I needed to smoke marijuana I would probably laugh in their face,” JOP Stahl said.
Of the members of the public who spoke about the proposed ordinance, only one spoke in favor of it while the rest spoke against it. One of those against the zoning ordinance being passed was Phillips County’s lone medical marijuana provider Todd Mandeville who talked about the strict guidelines laid out by the State of Montana that he must follow in order to keep his dispensary open.
“I have always been kind of under the radar because this isn’t something that you want everyone to know, but this is used for medicine and I want to be transparent about it,” Mandeville said.
Medical marijuana was legalized in the state of Montana in 2004 and in 2016, voters approved Montana Initiative 182. The initiative called for repealing the three-patient limit for medical marijuana providers. The initiative passed with 57-percent yes votes in the 2016 election, but in Phillips County, voters no-voted the measure 1,252 to 907.
In 2017, the Phillips County Commissioners passed a resolution prohibiting the operation of medical marijuana storefronts in unincorporated areas of Phillips County pursuant to the Montana Medical Marijuana Act.
In May of 2017, Phillips County had 33 cardholders and no providers. As of August 2019, Phillips County has 88 cardholders and one provider.
Of the 10 or so other members of the public who were against the ordinance being passed — each of them senior citizens — about half said that they personally use medical marijuana in place of other pharmaceutical drugs and the other half knows someone who uses medical marijuana, many of them adding that they used to be against the use of medical marijuana before seeing a loved one or patient use marijuana as medication.
Prior to the public hearing’s conclusion, County Commissioner Carnahan again stressed that the ordinance would not stop people from using medical marijuana in Phillips County.