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Billings creates draft map outlining where recreational pot shops can set up storefronts

Billings creates draft map outlining where recreational pot shops can set up storefronts

Marijuana sellers this week will see the first draft of regulations that the city is proposing should voters in November approve recreational marijuana storefronts to set up shop in Billings. 

The city's zoning commission on Tuesday night will take a first pass at new zoning regulations drafted to regulate where in the city recreational marijuana dispensaries can operate. If the commission approves, the zoning recommendations will go before the Billings City Council for approval later this month. 

Along with the draft zoning requirements, council will also decide whether to set a cap on the number of recreational marijuana business licenses it issues and whether to use a lottery system to select which businesses are awarded the licenses. 

"We are in the process of drafting an ordinance for your review," said city attorney Gina Dahl. 

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.

In November, residents will 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.

Under the proposed zoning, adult-use dispensaries would be allowed to operate in light and heavy industrial zones and in heavy commercial zones at least 1,000 feet from schools, churches, youth centers and residential areas.

Under those parameters, recreational marijuana shops could open up storefronts in the area between Overland Avenue and Gabel Road in southwest Billings, the area around Monad Road and Daniel Street, a small area around Midland Road, a small pocket south of the industrial area east of downtown and a little corner of land in the Heights behind Bull Mountain Grille. 

Council members debated at their meeting Monday night whether or not the city should regulate the amount of THC allowed in the marijuana sold in Billings. THC is the active ingredient in cannabis and state law sets the limit at 35%. 

Members Pam Purinton and Roy Neese wondered if the city could require the limit be set at 8% for recreational marijuana sold in town. 

City staff and other council members argued that doing so would mean the city would then have to set up a lab, test the cannabis sold in the city and then enforce the limit, all of which could be expensive for the city and place an unfair advantage on recreational marijuana shops operating in the county under the state regulations.

Ultimately, the council settled on directing city staff to research the impacts various levels of THC has on users.    

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