Zoning commission weighs in on cannabis retail rules

On February 28, the Libby Zoning Commission took its first look at the proposed municipal recreational cannabis rules.

Drafted by the city’s ordinance committee in late fall and early winter, the package sets guidelines for future cannabis retail outlets in Libby. Voters in Lincoln County — and Libby — backed a 2020 ballot initiative legalizing the possession, cultivation and sale of marijuana locally.

State rules enacted since legalization limit recreational cannabis sales to established medical marijuana dispensaries through July 2023. This gives municipalities like Libby, which previously banned dispensaries from city limits, some respite to develop rules for the booming industry.

Although city councilors reviewed a draft recreational marijuana ordinance at retail in early February, the package of changes has been submitted to the zoning commission for review, as it involves adjustments to both districts. Libby’s sales reps.

Councilwoman Kristin Smith, who helped draft the ordinance and sits on the zoning commission, said accommodating the retail sale of recreational marijuana required multiple changes to various sections of the municipality’s codes. . She cited as an example the necessary language changes regarding commercial licenses. Previously, the city was not allowed to license any business that sold goods considered illegal under federal law.

“The [city] the attorney gave us language to allow that,” Smith said Monday. “And then the next two sections deal specifically with the two trade districts, allowing dispensaries as a conditional use.”

Ordinance committee members identified the Libby Commercial Highway neighborhood, which runs along U.S. Highway 2, and the downtown business district, encompassing California and Mineral avenues, as retail areas. of marijuana. In these areas, however, stores must remain within 500 feet of schools and churches — as outlined in state law — as well as public parks.

Proposed changes specific to the city’s zoning for these two districts include a ban on opaque windows, visible security measures like bars or screens, and a limit on window panels for marijuana stores. Language before the zoning commission also requires future outlets to adopt building facades that blend in with neighboring buildings. Since retailers would need a conditional use permit to go ahead with a store, all would-be entrepreneurs must appear before Libby Town Council before opening.

“So it really comes down to the percentage of panel coverage, no security bars, screens, grilles, or obscuring windows,” said zoning commissioner Jennifer Nelson. “They basically have to adhere to the same design appearances as other stores.”

Even so, commission members soon began debating other aspects of the city’s proposed rules regarding the retail sale of marijuana. Member Christian Montgomery was concerned that marijuana stores could incorporate other business ventures, such as coffee shops, or expand into selling other retail products.

“If you go to an accessory store, it’s for that purpose. I don’t think they should be allowed to sell coffee or do anything else,” he said.

He said his concern stemmed from the availability of tobacco products and slot machines at a wide range of outlets.

“It’s like the way they put slot machines, casino machines, everywhere when I was a kid,” he said. “Slot machines at gas stations.”

Whether retail marijuana stores are akin to liquor stores or bars has emerged as a major question. Liquor stores, Smith pointed out, could sell wine glasses and other goods. And as resident Alexis Kuehn pointed out during the public comment portion, bars allow people to consume their products on-site and sell items other than drinks.

“Do the bars sell coffee? What about soft drinks, sodas and T-shirts? ” she asked.

“They do. … I don’t know the answer to that,” Smith said, conceding the point and promising to review whether state law restricts the sale of products not directly related to marijuana use.

“There are slot machines and lots of other things that people can carry around while they sit down and sip a cocktail like an adult,” Kuehn said. “So what’s the difference?” »

This raised the question of whether retail stores could allow on-site cannabis consumption. Smith added it to the list of aspects of retail marijuana she planned to research.

She said she hoped to have answers for the zoning commission in time for the group’s next meeting. Smith said she expected the commission to refer him to the city council at that time.

Before ending the meeting, she encouraged the two residents present to continue participating in future meetings.

“The zoning commission will make a recommendation to the city council. They can still vote against. They can add to it or take away from it,” Smith said. “There are a lot of opportunities for contribution.”

Aurora J. William