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Commissioners put hold on new cannabis dispensaries

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | February 18, 2022 7:00 AM

County commissioners moved this week to block new marijuana dispensaries from coming into the region until July of next year.

In a unanimous Feb. 16 vote, commissioners approved a resolution placing a temporary stay on any outside distributors or growers. The hold comes more than a month after legalized retail recreational marijuana sales opened up across the state.

The state’s rules for legalization limit initial marijuana sales to existing medicinal dispensaries, with the market opening up to entrepreneurs on July 1, 2023. While local officials have welcomed the breathing room, an industry representative warned commissioners last month that the restriction falls short of preventing existing dispensaries elsewhere in the state from relocating.

Introducing the resolution this week, County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2) said he pursued the document to spare the area from a flood of new dispensaries between now and next summer.

“I want to make sure we don’t get overrun,” he said, noting that he ran the language of the resolution by the county attorney’s office.

The document also calls on residents, business owners and representatives of government agencies to weigh in on recreational retail marijuana sales locally, giving an end date for public input of Feb. 28.

Bennett said he hoped the resolution would spark ongoing dialogue between the county and its municipalities. He was aware, for example, that Libby City Council was petitioning the commissioners to place a 3 percent local tax on retail sales before voters.

“I think it’s a good conversation starter for the county and the cities to be discussing this together,” Bennett said.

City councilors in Libby took their first look at proposed local rules for retail cannabis operations in the municipality earlier this month. Born from multiple meetings of the city’s ordinance committee, the draft document omits a cap on shops or proximity restrictions between outlets beyond the state’s stipulations.

Like Bennett, members of the city committee initially worried about a flood of marijuana shops in Libby. Earlier drafts included space restrictions between future cannabis outlets. Ultimately, members decided against limiting entrepreneurs in a specific industry.

Libby City Council is expected to take action on the proposed ordinance in the coming weeks. Debate among city councilors at the document’s Feb. 7 unveiling was muted.

City councilors also are poised to send a letter to the board of commissioners formally asking to put the 3 percent local tax proposal on a future ballot.