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Helena-area marijuana dispensary

Montana Buds manager Tony Meyer sifts through a jar of medical marijuana buds at the Helena-area marijuana dispensary in this IR file photo.

The Helena Zoning Commission will decide Tuesday whether to advance draft ordinances regarding the sale of medical marijuana for city commissioners to take up in the near future.

The four drafts propose new definitions for the city code and constraints on where dispensaries and grow operations can locate within city limits. As drafted, the ordinances restrict both types of establishments from residential districts and the immediate vicinity of schools.

The ordinances drew from state law and public feedback gathered at the zoning commission’s January public meeting at Helena Civic Center.

If the ordinances are passed by the city commission as drafted, dispensaries can operate in Helena’s three business and commercial districts, the light manufacturing district and the industrial district but not within 500 feet of schools.

Grow operations would have to operate with a conditional use permit in the light manufacturing and industrial districts at least 1,000 feet from schools or residential districts.

A 2004 referendum legalized medical marijuana in Montana with 62 percent approval, but Helena city code stood in its way. Section 4-1-11, enacted under Prohibition in 1926, forbade the city to license a “trade, business, occupation, vocation, pursuit, profession or entertainment prohibited by” state or federal law.

The code came back into play last July when city commissioners noticed a planned annexation of about 300 Westside properties would include The Higher Standard, a Winston Street medical marijuana dispensary. The annexation was confirmed on Sept. 24, 2018, and took effect two months later.

Commissioners voted Dec. 17, 2018, to place a moratorium on enforcing section 4-1-11. The moratorium began Jan. 16 and lasts through June 30, or until the city takes definitive action on the code.

Sharon Haugen, Helena community development director, confirmed Monday that the seven dispensaries licensed by the city since the moratorium began are not in violation of the ordinances as drafted.

The zoning commission will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Room 330 of the City/County Building at 316 N. Park Ave. in Helena.

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Local and State Government Reporter

State and local government reporter for the Independent Record.

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