Great Falls City Commissioners Speak On Marijuana Zoning
If you've seen my articles, you know I talk about pot in Great Falls a lot. Not because I have reefer madness, it's because of how the citizens of Montana have been ignored on this issue. You can check my articles out here, here, here and here. I'm not always really polite about our local leaders, so I thought I'd give them a chance to speak on the subject.
I had the opportunity to speak to 3 of the 5 City Commissioners this week about how and why they decided to zone Great Falls marijuana dispensaries in industrial zones. Susan Wolff never returned my message and I didn't contact Mayor Kelly, but you'll hear from Joe McKenney, Rick Tryon, and Eric Hinebauch.
First, I want you, citizens of Great Falls and Cascade County to know your commissioners, every one of them, are open to talking to any of you at any time. Just get a hold of them. You might be as surprised as I was at the easy access to our city leaders. They were all very nice, as well. Something I may not deserve as smarmy as some of these articles are.
I asked all of them the same 2 questions; Why industrial zones only and What will you do with the tax dividend.
Commissioner Tryon said he paid close attention when people show up in mass with definite ideas and opinions adding that he was struck by how many people came to the city council meeting opposed to the shops being located in commercial or residential zones. He said they were afraid of the aesthetic when people came to Great Falls. They all wanted it kept to the industrial parts of our city. He also paid close attention to neighborhood council meetings and volunteer advisory boards. At the end of our talk, he said he'd like to take a more careful approach and see where it goes from there.
Commissioner Tryon said that the decision to zone it before the election was recommended by the Great Falls planning board.
As for how to spend the money, he said something I think we all need to hear. In terms of city management, $240,000 a year really isn't that much money. He's right. It's nothing to sneeze at and it will help in a lot of ways, but it's not the game-changer I think we all think it may be. Commissioner Tryon would like to see the money be used for public safety. He let me know there will be discussions, public vetting, public hearings and legal reviews before anything is set in stone.
Commissioner McKenney let me know that there were decisions the city would have to make before the election due to the active lawsuit. If they lost, and they did, they'd have to have zoning in place. Commissioner McKenney said this whole thing was a tough decision with the commission. Some wanted it out of sight, the whole aesthetic thing, the other side wanted it treated like off-site liquor sales. The majority rules in the commission and it was voted 3-2 to keep it in industrial areas.
Commissioner McKenney was treading lightly due to the latest lawsuit being brought on the city. With respect for that, I asked him how they came about their decisions. He said the public meetings (held on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month) are the last step. There are work sessions, speaking with citizens, talking with each other, quarams aren't allowed, take public comment, take an informal vote to check the temperature of the topic and then maybe vote on it at a commission meeting.
Commissioner Hinebauch and I mostly spoke of the industrial areas. He felt it was a pretty even split both for and against at the meetings. His stance on the whole thing is to do what the voters told them to do. Make a way to sell marijuana inside the Great Falls City limits. He said the commission spoke of the issue in work sessions and took recommendations from city staff. Commissioner Hinebauch wanted to move forward like it was any other business in town like a liquor store. He said the commission majority wanted to act with more caution and ease into it. As for Commissioner Hinebauch he said he bases his votes mainly on how we voted. I like how he stressed that Great Falls voters twice voted it in and the commission should follow the majority will of the people, as personal responsibility can't be legislated. (Who gets my vote next time he runs? THIS GUY.) He added that if they were handled like off-site liquor sales or a casino, there are already state regulations in place that protect schools and churches. He also added that this passed by nearly 10 points in Great Falls and he'd like to revisit zoning at a later date.
I'd like to thank our commissioners for their time and for teaching me a thing or two. Remember, you're invited to every city commission meeting. Go be seen, go be heard.
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