by Nathan Boddy
The City of Hamilton has taken steps to prepare itself for an entirely new landscape in Montana, being the legalization of recreational marijuana. When the voters of the state passed I-190 and CI-118 in November of 2020, they set into motion the creation of a regulatory framework that will allow for the sale and consumption of marijuana by adults age 21 and over. Although medical marijuana had been legal in Montana prior to the passage of the new legislation in 2020, the new framework expands that right to recreational users as well.
Town Planner Matthew Rohrbach explained to the Hamilton City Council that city staff has been “trying to prepare for this as best we can.” During the first hearing for the proposed amendments to the Hamilton Municipal Code on Tuesday, November 16th , Rohrbach expressed the importance of preparing the Municipal Code for the eventuality that marijuana vendors may be interested in setting up shop in Hamilton. He pointed out that, on January 1st, 2022, the Montana Department of Revenue will begin to issue licenses to sell recreational marijuana to those interested businesses who already have a license to dispense medical marijuana. If, by that time, municipalities fail to have established a regulatory framework for those proposed new recreational dispensaries, then they would risk being unable to regulate them at all.
Much of the regulation that will govern marijuana dispensaries, however, will be done by the Montana Department of Revenue. Background checks, state licensing, security, taxation, seed-to-sale monitoring, etc. will all be done at the state level. Additionally, a state regulation has already spelled out that a marijuana dispensary will not be allowed within 500 feet and on the same street as a church or school. Additional state-level regulations will dictate certain hours of operation as well as buffering and setback requirements.
Nonetheless, the City of Hamilton, has an important role insofar as determining where, within the City of Hamilton, such dispensaries are to be allowed. To that end, City staff developed its recommendations after consultation with the Hamilton Downtown Business Association, the city attorney and the Montana League of Cities and Towns. After presenting its recommendations to the city Zoning Commission late last summer, the new text amendments to the Hamilton Municipal Code were presented to the City Council for the second and final public hearing on Tuesday, November 30th. The City Council voted unanimously to approve the text amendments to the municipal code.
Two chapters within the municipal code required amendments in order to prepare for legalized marijuana sales, amongst them being the addition of new definitions and providing specific zones wherein such businesses can operate. While commercial cultivation will not be allowed within the City of Hamilton, testing laboratories and manufacturing would be allowed as a Conditional Use within the manufacturing (CM) and industrial (MI) districts. Sales of marijuana would be allowed as a use-by-right in B-2 and CBD districts, provided that state regulations could still be met. These zones correspond with the downtown business district and the Highway 93 corridor.