Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Marijuana regulations that would apply countywide and address the industry's massive energy consumption received the unanimous backing of the Missoula Consolidated Planning Board this week.

The board recommended Missoula County now adopt the regulations, which would require 500 feet between cannabis retailers and require growers to either use 100% clean electricity or chose LED lights from a list of certified, energy-friendly lighting.

“We're doing best practice in terms of trying to assess the impacts of this type of industry and propose the most reasonable regulations to achieve county goals,” said county planner Jenny Dixon. “It's almost identical to what applies in the zoned portion of Missoula County right now, with the exception of window glazing.”

Regulations in the zoned portion of the county, including the City of Missoula, regulate the amount of glazing a marijuana retailer can have on the windows. But the countywide ordinance, which applies to unzoned areas, doesn't address glazing.

However, it does address the spacing between marijuana dispensaries by requiring 500 feet of separation. Dixon said that was necessary to maintain business diversity in commercial areas.

Like the city ordinance, the new countywide regulations also would include energy standards. National statistics suggest that cannabis cultivation uses 7 times more electricity per square foot than the average commercial facility.

To address that usage, the countywide rules would give growers a choice of choosing from a list of LED lights as recommended by industry standards, or switch to 100% clean electricity.

“I like that it's consistent with the zoned areas of the county in terms of what we're asking,” said planning board member Dori Gilels. “It's clear in the report there's a uniquely high level of energy consumption associated with cannabis. It's appropriate for us given our climate goals to be addressing that this way.”

While zoning in the Missoula urban area is common, countywide zoning happens less often. It occurred in the 1970s when the county created a “nuclear free zone” to ensure no nuclear facilities opened within the county.

In the 1990s, the county adopted countywide billboard sign regulations and followed in 2019 with new cryptocurrency rules, which were also created to address energy usage.

If adopted, the cannabis regulations would apply to nearly all areas of the county.

“Now that we've looked at crypto mining as a key way to address our climate action goals, we asked ourselves what the next step was,” Dixon said. “With so much growth in the marijuana industry, we wanted to take a look at it as a way to meet our climate goals.”

Missoula County will now consider adopting the regulations as recommended by the planning board.