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City looks to hem in pot shops

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | October 13, 2021 6:50 AM

The city of Columbia Falls plans on restricting where marijuana shops can set up their businesses in the city.

The concern as of late by city council has been that some areas of the city are currently zoned commercial, but close to residential neighborhoods, like Railroad Street, for example.

To remedy that, the city is proposing an “Adult Use Marijuana Business zoning overlay” within the Commercial Business-2 zoning designation.

The overlay would run along U.S. Highway 2 from the railroad tracks west to Meadow Lake Boulevard and then south of Meadow Lake Boulevard to the intersection of O’Neil Way.

The overlay only includes lots that front Highway 2. The overlay would include marijuana dispensaries and marijuana cultivation and manufacturing facilities.

All the facilities would see further restrictions, including not being within 500 feet of a church or school. Grow operations must also be shielded from public view. In other words, a marijuana grower couldn’t have, say, an open window where people could see the plants.

The district would be about 45 acres total, though many of the lots are already occupied by other businesses. Montana voters made recreational marijuana legal in the 2021 election by a ballot initiative.

The city currently has two medical marijuana dispensaries — one on Nucleus Avenue and another on Highway 2 west of O’Brien’s Liquor.

They would be “grandfathered” in under the new regulations as nonconforming uses. State law doesn’t allow for cities to prohibit marijuana businesses, but it does allow them to restrict their locations through zoning.

The planning board was expected to take up the regulations at its meeting Tuesday, which was after presstime.

The full city council, in turn, will take up the matter at its Oct. 18 meeting, with a public hearing at 7 p.m.