Flathead County considers ‘opt-out’ ballot proposal on recreational pot
KALISPELL (KPAX) - Community members packed a meeting room and residents lined the hallways in Kalispell for a public session on recreational marijuana.
Recreational marijuana sales began in Montana in January after voters approved legalization in the November 2020 election. But nearly two years after the decision was put to voters, questions about how marijuana should be sold persist.
A current Kalispell ordinance says dispensaries are not allowed in city limits and must be at least 500 feet away from schools and churches. However, the rule doesn't apply to the rest of the county though.
“Nobody was aware that an opt-out was even in question. And it just doesn't feel like the two commissioners sitting in front of me that I'm speaking to are listening to the people of Flathead County," said one speaker.
Flathead County commissioners held a public comment session to talk about an opt-out for adult use marijuana on the ballot in November.
“We had a good turnout of people. I took 10 pages of notes. So that tells me that there's a real voice out there that was interested in what went on with this, said Randy Brohdel, Flathead County Commissioner.
About 85 people attended the comment session from both sides of the issue. Some of the main concerns were for child safety, the black market, jobs that would be lost and the confusing 67-page initial ballot initiative.
“It doesn't spark an opt out conversation in my mind. It sparks a conversation of what can we do better? What's working? What's not working? What can we do better?" said a speaker.
The majority of the people agreed, on both sides, that there are flaws in the current system. A concern for all is that the money raised on the taxes of recreational marijuana sales are not being allocated to the original destinations outlined in the ballot initiative.
“And so a group of folks are disgruntled, who weren't happy with the outcome of the election. Now they want to revote. But the fact is, the voters in the State of Montana voted for this. It's state law. And the question is you know, what's the process for a county to opt in and opt out? And the commissioner has asked that question, and I think they got an answer today," said Montana Cannabis Guild President and CEO Pepper Peterson.
The concentration of dispensaries in the Evergreen area was a hot topic as well as the proximity of the businesses to schools and churches.
“This from the get-go was going to be divisive. And I feel bad for the people that did invest money in this, but living in Lakeside, we have a dispensary by our school," said a speaker at the public comment session.
It is not set whether this opt-out for adult use marijuana will be on the November ballot. Each side of the issue presented concerns and ideas to the commissioners at this public comment session which was the point of this meeting.
“I think that we're doing our due diligence to get this right. I think all three of us are very much committed to listening in making this happen in a way that would be first legal and second would be would include the voice of the people. The power to make decisions comes from the people to the commissioners. And I think listening is part of that process," said Brodehl.