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Helena City Commission approves new rules for medical marijuana businesses

The Helena City Commission gave final approval Monday to new rules on where medical marijuana businesses in the city can operate.

Commissioners unanimously supported two new ordinances. They allow medical marijuana dispensaries in areas zoned for commercial and industrial uses. Grow operations will be allowed in industrial areas, but only with a conditional use permit.

The rules say a dispensary has to be at least 500 feet from the nearest school campus boundary, while a grow operation has to be 1000 feet from any school property or residential areas. They also prohibit people from running any marijuana businesses out of their homes.

The new ordinances come after months of discussion. The process was sparked last year, when the city annexed some properties on Helena’s west side – including one on Winston Street that already had a working dispensary.

Helena had a longstanding code that said it could not license any business that was permitted under state law but not under federal law. That meant medical marijuana businesses couldn’t operate in city limits. But the city commission voted to suspend the rule for six months, allowing the dispensary to keep operating while they decided whether to adopt more specific rules.

While the moratorium was in place, dispensaries could operate anywhere in Helena that is zoned for retail. The city issued ten temporary business licenses for dispensary operations during that time.

The original moratorium will expire on June 30. The commission had to decide Monday whether to allow those temporary licenses to remain in effect past that time or require the license-holders to reapply for a permanent license to continue operating. They voted unanimously that dispensaries should have to get new licenses.

Once dispensaries apply for a permanent license, they will have to meet the new zoning requirements. One temporary license-holder, on Euclid Avenue, will have to move, because it is too close to the athletic fields at C.R. Anderson Middle School. Another license-holder was also too close to school property, but city staff said that business withdrew its application.

Commissioners thanked city staff and the Helena Zoning Commission for working hard to resolve a complex issue in just six months.

“We moved pretty fast overall when you think about it,” said Commissioner Andres Haladay.

-Reported by Jonathon Ambarian/MTN News

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