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Billings to decide boundaries for recreational marijuana dispensaries

Posted at 11:44 PM, Oct 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-20 11:34:24-04

BILLINGS — Recreational marijuana dispensaries might be coming inside the city limits if voters approve in the upcoming Nov. 2 election, but that still leaves the question of where they can operate in the city.

Proposed zoning law calls for marijuana dispensaries to be separated 600 feet from religious facilities, schools and parks with playgrounds and 350 feet from residential neighborhoods.

The dispensaries would be limited to heavy commercial and light industrial zone districts.

City staff released a map showing the approximate locations where dispensaries would be able to operate, which is shown below:

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The area in green marks zoning districts where marijuana dispensaries could be located under proposed city zoning law.

The Council will see a first reading on marijuana business regulations at its meeting next week on Oct. 25. Click here to find the Council agenda and links to the complete documents.

The Billings City Council has a goal to get marijuana business regulations signed by Dec. 1, to have the regulations take effect by the start of next year, when medical dispensaries in good standing with the local and state laws can start selling to adults over 21.

The current proposed dispensary separation distances have been lowered compared to previous boundaries, increasing the space within the city where they could open.

There's concern from some in the marijuana industry that there's not enough space that's realistic to purchase within the proposed zoning districts.

Tina Walker-Smith owns Canna of Eden in Billings. She sells CBD products and educates marijuana business people about the law and offers training for dispensary employees. She was also a caregiver in Billngs from 2016 to 2017.

"When you pick very few zones in more industrial areas. That's what you're going to get. Either it's not available or it's not an area where many people would be able to afford to buy land, build new, and then start a whole business. And plus, that takes years," Smith said on Tuesday.

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Tina Walker-Smith, owner of Canna of Eden in Billings.

Smith said many in the industry are caught in a game of wait and see. To see how regulations shake out at the city level.

“I am curious to see what dispensary owners will be able to secure as far as areas to start a business. Or move their business into the city, whatever they want to do. Open up a second location," Smith said.

At the Monday Council meeting, Ward 1 representative Mike Yakawich expressed concern that the expanded dispensary area opened up more room on the South Side than anywhere else.

“One thing for sure is we don’t want as much inundated on the South Side. I agree with Councilman Neese in that we should look at that. I mean. We’ve had the map one hundred times here. The area around there is all low income. We’ve seen it one hundred times. So, good to look at it more, but I’m really concerned about impacting the Southwest side more than the southwest corridor," Yakawich said.

Details of the proposed marijuana business regulations could be changed by Council vote at next week's meeting.

RELATED: Marijuana the talk of Billings policy forum with public and dispensary owners