It's low and slow for Billings city leaders as they look at regulating the number of recreational marijuana dispensaries that set up shop in town and their potential growth.
City staff had considered recommending that Billings City Council adopt a cap of 12 business licenses for recreational marijuana dispensaries wanting to set up. Council members talked at length about the optimal number for a cap, with many suggesting eight would be a better figure.
"I absolutely support the lower number," said council member Shaun Brown.
Staff are planning to present to council members their first draft of the city's ordinance regulating recreational marijuana at their next meeting on Monday. For it to be adopted, the draft ordinance has to receive a second reading a month later. If council members vote to approve it at that point, the ordinance would go into effect 30 days later, which be late December.
Also a point of debate for council was whether it should adopt regulations requiring that recreational marijuana sold in Billings have a lower potency than what the state requires. Most council members shot the idea down.
Mayor Bill Cole pointed out that the city would have no good data to refer to as a reason for requiring a lower potency. Billings also would be the first city to regulate a lower potency, a move that carries some legal risk.
"There's no way we could enforce it," Brown added.
State law requires recreational pot sold in Montana have a THC concentration of no higher than 35%. THC is the active ingredient in cannabis.
Statewide legalization of adult-use marijuana goes into effect on Jan. 1. State law breaks down the recreational marijuana industry into seven categories, from storefront sales to cultivation to distribution. All will be legal in Billings at the start of the year with the exception of the storefronts.
Billings residents have until Nov. 2 to vote on whether to allow retail marijuana dispensaries to open and operate within city limits. Should voters approve, city officials want to be ready with clearly defined regulations in place.