The Healing Center of Montana (THC), a medical marijuana collective, plans to sue the city of Whitefish over its recently approved moratorium on medical marijuana businesses, fearing that the city's decision will set a precedent for other communities in the state.
"I'm concerned that if the city of Whitefish gets away with this that other cities will do the exact same thing," says THC's Michael Smith.
On Dec. 7, the Whitefish City Council narrowly passed an "urgency ordinance" banning medical marijuana businesses for three months so the Whitefish Planning and Building Department can investigate ways to appropriately zone them. In the decision, the council determined that such establishments "could be immediately detrimental to, harmful to, and a threat to the peace, property, health, safety, and welfare of the city and its inhabitants."
Smith says THC will sue Whitefish by the beginning of next year on the grounds that the ordinance circumvents state law. Specifically, the ordinance states that it applies to medical marijuana caregivers who provide marijuana to more than three qualifying patients, but state law puts no limit on the number of patients for which a caregiver can supply medicine.
"State law allows a caregiver in his own private residence to care for as many people as he wants," Smith says. "The zoning, whether they think so or not, does not impact a private Montana citizen in the privacy of their own home."
Allen St. Pierre, director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), says that land use and zoning is "the great frontier" in marijuana law reform. Hundreds of communities, most notably in California and Colorado, he says, have moved to ban medical marijuana in recent years.
"The fulcrum that determines whether or not these dispensaries, such as they are, will exist is the mores and values of those in that local area," St. Pierre says. "And as a former zoning student and land-use student, there is often no greater demonstration of a community's mores and values than its zoning."