In a packed meeting that required additional chairs brought in, the Troy City Council on Wednesday heard public comment and discussed the ins and outs of permitting the medical marijuana dispensary Alternative ReLeaf to receive a business license, before ultimately approving the license with a 2-1 vote, with Councilor Shawna Kelsey absent.
Both members who voted in favor of the license — Crystal Denton and Chuck Ekstedt — expressed support for allowing the business to operate in Troy, though they encouraged the owners to avoid locating near neighbors who would be upset by being next to the medical marijuana dispensary.
Though Council Member TJ Boswell voted against the motion, he did not directly express opposition to the business locating in Troy.
Early in the meeting, Boswell noted the city has an ordinance prohibiting a business license to a business in violation of federal law.
Because medical marijuana use is not sanctioned under federal law, a dispensary would be such a business. However, since it is an ordinance, it is within the council’s power to change it if they wish.
Long way around
Barb Turner, who owns the medical marijuana dispensary with her husband Jon Meister and has a location just west of Libby city limits, had come before the council the previous week during the non-voting work meeting.
Requiring a business owner to appear at a work meeting is an unusual step for the council, and most business licenses are presented in the meeting where the council will vote.
But several members of the public showed up at both meetings to raise objections, including Christie Nichols, proprietor of Christie’s Hair Salon, a prospective neighbor of where Turner first proposed locating the dispensary.
While the location would only be a dispensary and not have space for growth or production, Nichols was concerned about smells from the dispensary reaching her neighboring shop.
In response, Turner and Meister agreed that, if their license was approved, they would take measures to address any concerns of smell, though she said it was unlikely there would be significant odor.
Other concerns at both meetings included items such as security, and Turner multiple times laid out the security procedures, legal requirements and things such as the safe any product is placed in at night and the chain of custody requirement dealing with even the movement of the product from one location to another.
On Wednesday, there was a larger crowd than had been at the first meeting, and many of the same questions as before were rehashed.
Leading the approximately 90-minute second meeting, Mayor Dallas Carr raised objections of his own, including the specter of federal grants being denied Troy if a dispensary were in city limits.
Carr also noted he could find no occurrence where a community with a dispensary was denied federal grants as a result, but returned to the concern several times.
Troy Police Officer Henry Roy, who had not been present for the previous meeting, also raised objection regarding the legality of the business. He was joined by several in the crowd proposing various potential risks and comparisons to states that, unlike Montana, allow for recreational marijuana use.
“I don’t think anyone in here is doubting there’s a medical purpose for marijuana if used in the right way,” Boswell said.
“I hear a bunch of ‘what ifs’,” he said, “We’re playing the what-if game. What’s Bozeman doing, What’s Missoula doing? In my opinion, that doesn’t carry much merit with me.”
Boswell returned to the city ordinance and the prohibition on allowing a business that is in violation of U.S. law.
“If we’re going to do something, or if we’re going to change something, then we need to change what’s written,” he said. “Because if we’re not going to follow what’s written in our provisions, then why follow anything?”
When Carr finally called for a vote, he said he would like to see the business find a different location than the original proposed to avoid upsetting neighboring businesses.
When the subject was revisited after the vote, Turner said she would prefer not to locate where their neighbors did not want their business.
Ekstedt moved to approve the license, and Denton seconded.
“I’ll make that motion,” Ekstedt said, adding that he felt the threats some had proposed medical marijuana presented did not compare to those already in the community from alcohol and other drugs.
He said medical marijuana was “nothing like” those substances that create problems in the city.