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Billings City Council back in regular chambers to talk local recreational cannabis law

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Posted at 5:05 PM, Jul 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-06 19:05:43-04

BILLINGS — For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic first ramped up in March of 2020, the Billings City Council will hold its Tuesday meeting in its regular chambers in the second floor of City Hall at 210 N 27th St.

"I think that we're excited to be back in the Council chambers and use them for what they were designed to be. Where we were designed to sit and have public engagement," said Councilwoman Penny Ronning, who represents Billings Ward 4 underneath the Rimrocks.

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Billings City Councilwoman Penny Ronning, who represents Ward 4 underneath the Rimrocks, speaks with MTN News at Veterans Park on Tuesday.

Ronning said she expected sound over the television broadcast to be better heard from the Council's regular chambers, since every member has their individual microphone.

Public comment will only be taken from members of the public present at the meeting. The meeting will still be broadcast live on the Community 7 TV channel, its website and social media pages. Public comment can also be given by sending an email to all Council members at the following address: council@billingsmt.gov.

The Council moved to all online meetings held via video call in mid March 2020, when the pandemic was ramping up and county health officer orders came down limiting the number of people the businesses could serve. Public comment was taken via the video calls during the virtual meetings.

Then in 2021 after the COVID-19 vaccine was widely available, the Council shifted its meetings to a hybrid format, with the Council and members of the public physically attending the meeting. People could give public comment in person or via video call.

One thing Ronning said she won't miss about the video call meetings is the miscommunication that sometimes cropped up due to slow or intermittent internet connections.

"That could get a bit frustrating and working through those glitches I won't miss. It will be nice to just be able to ask questions and have answers come right back," Ronning said.

The council has the large topic of the implementation of recreational marijuana in the city on it's work session agenda Monday night.

Councilmembers will hear their first presentation about the laws passed by the State Legislature in 2021. Among the big decisions city staff and Council will have to tackle are where dispensaries will be located with zoning laws. The city will likely have to create a new business license for dispensaries, Ronning said. As well, the Council will have to decide whether to add an additional "local option" tax (up to three percent) on marijuana products sold in the city. The state government will already tax the sale of marijuana products state wide at a 20 percent rate.

The initial presentation Monday night will likely kick off discussions on recreational marijuana that will last for months, Ronning said. For the new laws to be implimented well, it will take the coordination of the city's public safety, finance and code enforcement departments, Ronning said.

"Really be diligent in making sure that all of the departments are working together as well as making sure that the public at large really understands the process that government goes through to make the ordinances that we do. They are in depth, they're intense and they take a lot of work," Ronning said.

RELATED: New Montana laws on marijuana, transgender athletes, more take effect July 1