Choteau is the latest Montana town to consider a municipal ban on marijuana dispensaries 

A "coming soon" sign in the window of Choteau businessman Jim Anderson's Main Street building is not being well received. Local governments across rural Teton County sprang into action as word spread that Anderson, owner of Grizzly Sports and Auto, was leasing part of his space to a medical marijuana dispensary. The town of Fairfield, 18 miles away, banned pot dispensaries in city limits, and in late June Choteau imposed a 90-day moratorium against such businesses.

Anderson isn't surprised. "It's a fear thing," he says.

He should know. Anderson voted to ban dispensaries in 2010 as a member of Choteau City Council. That ban expired in 2013, and now the self-professed "Montana redneck" finds himself on the other side of the debate.

Nothing in the state's new medical marijuana law, ushered in by last year's I-182 ballot initiative, prohibits local governments from curtailing dispensaries within their jurisdictions. For years, some of the state's largest citiesBillings, Great Falls, Kalispell and Helenahave done just that. While dispensaries in those areas operate just outside city limits, bans in small towns could make it difficult for cardholders in rural areas to acquire medicine.

The scope of such prohibitions is unclear, as the Department of Public Health and Human Services, the state agency administering the new program, doesn't track local regulations, according to a spokesperson.

Bloom Montana, which operates three dispensaries near Billings and Helena, is scheduled to open in Choteau later this summer (Bloom partner Nick Frentsos declined to comment). Anderson says he signed a 10-year lease with Bloom after receiving the go-ahead from the mayor and city attorney in April. But at a recent public hearing livestreamed online by the Choteau Acantha, city officials expressed concern that state marijuana regulations have yet to take full effect, and one resident urged officials to "keep our town pristine."

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Anderson, who according to the Acantha "led the charge" against dispensaries in 2010 by comparing them to strip clubs, says today's opponents misunderstand medical marijuana's clientele.

"It wasn't the snowflakes, it wasn't the millennials, it was the baby boomers who voted this in," he says of I-182. "We're old and worn out, and if you don't want to go with the old medical approach ... then you've got to find alternatives."

Anderson says he reconsidered his view on medical marijuana after he and his wife developed "brain growths," though he isn't a patient himself and says he voted against I-182.

Money, too, has a way of changing hearts. In Billings, councilman Shaun Brown suggested during a March discussion that he'd reconsider the city's ban if medical marijuana generated more tax revenue. And in Choteau, Anderson says leasing to a dispensary allows him to stay afloat in "Main Street America."

"I said, 'Well, if I want to stay in business in Choteau and pay these high taxes they impose on me, this is an alternative.'"

Based on his verbal agreement with the city, Anderson says his tenant plans to open shop in August, despite the 90-day moratorium. If the city reneges and attempts to enforce its new rule, Anderson says, "this obviously will be settled in court."

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