City Narrows Marijuana Choices Down To Two Options

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Great Falls city commissioners chose two medical marijuana options Tuesday night – either to extend a moratorium on medical marijuana businesses in the city through February 2011, or approve an outright ban.

Commissioner Bob Jones, retired police chief, said he originally favored a ban, but was leaning toward the moratorium extension to show that city officials are caring, while giving them time to study a complex issue.

A final vote by the City Commission on the two options is expected at its June 1 meeting at 7 p.m.

On the key vote that kept both an extended moratorium and a ban as options Tuesday night, Jones was joined by Mayor Michael Winters, who last week said he favored extending the moratorium until the Legislature can act; and Commissioner Bill Bronson.

Bronson said he wants the state to fix problems with the medical marijuana law before the city passes its ordinance.

Two commissioners, Mary Jolley and Fred Burow, favored passing an ordinance regulating and restricting marijuana businesses in the city limits. Burow's motion to do that failed by a 3-2 vote.

Burow said toward the end of the voting that he thought the moratorium extension could end up a "boondoggle."

State voters in 2004 approved medical marijuana for people with chronic pain, cancer and other maladies.

Speakers split at the Tuesday meeting, which drew about 70 people, over whether the city should take the lead in Montana by approving its own ordinance, wait until the state program is repaired, or ban medical marijuana businesses in the city.

Several speakers expressed alarm about approving an ordinance and City Attorney James Santoro warned that a pro-medical marijuana stance might jeopardize federal funds.

Mikie Messman, coordinator of the anti-drug Care program for Great Falls Public Schools, said marijuana use is proliferating among students, and city approval of medical marijuana businesses could make the drug appear legitimate to them.

Property manager Kelley Lind of Ulm said she has encountered more marijuana issues with tenants within the last few weeks.

The initial public comment at Tuesday night's meeting came from Karen Kaszula, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and hoped to obtain medical marijuana to ease her chronic pain. She choked up with tears and could not continue speaking.

Her husband, Mike Kaszula, said Karen had not yet obtained medical marijuana. He urged city commissioners to move forward with the ordinance.

Toward the end of the debate on medical marijuana, Mayor Michael Winters suggested that a caregiver who will assist Karen Kaszula must be available.

Several speakers suggested the state medical marijuana program allows people to obtain the drug too easily, noting that the age group that has obtained the most medical marijuana cards is people 21 to 30 years old, according to the state.

Attorney Melody Brown blasted city commissioners before they voted, criticizing Santoro's "the sky-is-falling argument" and claiming that much of the proposed city ordinance violated state law.

"You guys are going to make sure we aren't going to get any new businesses in," Brown said.

Lind, however, said the Kaszulas were the only speakers with a poignant story. The rest of those favoring the ordinance were mainly talking about the money new marijuana shops could make, she said.

"Why are we allowing marijuana in our cities?" asked Fitness Plus owner Don Johnson.

Winters and other speakers praised the work of Michael Haynes, city planning and community development director, and his staff in writing the proposed ordinance. One Billings attorney who attended the Tuesday meeting said he thought it was the best draft he had seen.

However, following Tuesday's action, a city ordinance could not be adopted for at least seven months, unless commissioners opt for an outright ban.



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Source: greatfallstribune.com
Author: Richard Ecke
Contact: recke@greatfallstribune.com
Copyright: 2010 Great Falls tribune
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