Stoking the fire

The Hamilton City Council recently addressed a new twist on Montana's medical marijuana regulatory conundrum: How do municipal governments deal with large amounts of cannabis smoke produced within city confines?

Councilman Al Mitchell broached the issue during a June 15 meeting. In an audio file obtained by the Indy, he told the council that a concerned constituent approached him that morning to complain about a neighbor burning significant amounts of cannabis trimmings, sending smoke billowing onto the constituent's front porch.

"I don't know if this is an enforcement issue or something to send to council," Mitchell said as he introduced the non-agenda item. While Mitchell said the whistleblower was clearly annoyed, the councilman didn't seem to mind.

"I found it rather relaxing," he quipped.

Hamilton enacted an interim zoning ordinance in March that spells out where caregivers are allowed to sell medical marijuana. The newest legal question drew apparent frustration from the city's police chief, Ryan Oster, who muttered under his breath, "I'm tired of the medical marijuana issue," before formally addressing the council.

Even so, Oster dutifully evaluated existing legal tools that can be used to curb cannabis emissions. The city's recently revised burning ordinance leaves the door open to recreational fires, he said. But, he added, "I don't see how you could say that's legitimate for, you know, roasting hot dogs."

On the other hand, Oster pointed out that burning that much marijuana could be deemed a public nuisance.

"I don't think you have the right to give your neighbor the munchies," he said.

Councilwoman Lynette Helgeland took a stricter stand on the topic.

"What they are doing is they are medicating their neighbors without their consent," she said. "It crosses some pretty severe ethical and legal boundaries. You know, no one could make me take a pill against my will. If somebody did that, it would be assault."

When contacted after the meeting, Oster told the Indy that he hasn't heard of another case like this. But the foundation of the complaint, he said, is common.

"I think what it comes down to, as a lot of issues do, is be respectful of your neighbors," he said.

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