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Medical marijuana zoning meeting draws small crowd

POLSON — The latest public meeting to solicit public comment on medical marijuana zoning regulations for Polson was held on May 7 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Even though medical marijuana is a hot topic in Polson, only about 16 community members attended the meeting held on the third floor of the Lake County Court House.

City of Polson Building and Planning Department Head Joyce Weaver again chaired the meeting. Weaver asked committee members Ken Avison, Todd Crossett, Sgt. Wade Nash, Sue Shannon, Ken Siler and David Whitesell for their thoughts on zoning for medical marijuana by May 13. 

Nash, a Polson Police Department Sargeant, began the discussion by talking about the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes stand on medical marijuana. 

Since the tribes don’t recognize medical marijuana as legal, a caregiver may only provide medical marijuana to a non-tribal member.

Audience member Preston Johnson wondered how a caregiver or a storefront could determine tribal membership without profiling or being accused of racism. 

One idea was to have patients sign a form stating they were not a tribal member to protect the storefront or caregiver.

Redirecting the talk to zoning, Crossett said,“Ultimately what we have to do is decide – where do we want to zone, if we do.” 

Whitesell brought language describing the 1,000-foot drug free zone around schools but also around playgrounds, video arcades, daycares, preschools, beaches and parks, etc. 

Polson City Commissioner Mike Lies explained that the average block in Polson is 500 feet, making the drug-free zone approximately two blocks.

City resident Bob Fulton suggested getting a map and drawing circles on it around the areas where medical marijuana cannot be grown or sold.  

Problems associated with medical marijuana such as mold damage, water damage, fire and inadequate electricity were mentioned. 

On the positive side Johnson said Missoula has noticed a $940,000 jump in building/construction since January.  

Community member Roland Godan said he thought medical marijuana should be approached as any other business would be approached. 

Nash expressed concern as a father and as a homeowner about large growers in city limits.

“You can’t put up a petroleum refinery, but you can sell gas,” Godan commented.

Johnson agreed, saying if you do zone medical marijuana, it gives you a way to control it.

Rich Bell said after 25 years in law enforcement “I can’t say I favor another drug.” 

Montana voted to allow medical marijuana in 2004. Bell said there is a city ordinance against walking down the street with a beer so there could be an ordinance against walking down the street with a joint or a pipe, also.

“It’s not the marijuana store, it’s the criminals,” Bell said.

Discussion continued with the crowd and committee members bringing up the following issues: 

• taxing medical marijuana

• law enforcement testing for marijuana impairment 

• similarities/differences between medical marijuana and other sorts of farming

• business fees for medical marijuana businesses

• supply and demand and what will happen when it hits equilibrium

• difficulty keeping enough medical marijuana for patients

• Washington D.C.’s streamlined medical marijuana laws — commercial growers, commercial sellers and patients.

Fulton added that language for the City County Planning Board/Zoning Commission meeting on June 22 will need to be much more precise.

Fulton said the board will ask questions such as, “Do you want medical marijuana in the city? Where? In what conditions?” 

Written comments on zoning for medical marijuana will also be accepted and should be directed to the Planning Department, 106 1st Street East, Polson, before May 14 to be included in the staff report.

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