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Missoula officials considering pot regulations ahead of first sales

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Will Gross, a budtender at Montana Kush cannabis dispensary, makes pre-rolled joints at the shop in July. 

Cannabis rules in Missoula regarding recreational marijuana dispensaries and manufacturing are edging closer to finalization ahead of the first sales in the state set for Jan. 1.

While we know for sure there will be a 3% local-option sales tax on recreational marijuana products, which passed in the November municipal general election, the city is still working on a draft ordinance to lay out rules for the rollout.

Missoula County voters approve recreational marijuana tax; medical tax fails

Public hearings have been held over the past month to cover several issues — how close dispensaries can be located near one another, proximity to churches and schools, energy and ecological concerns, and storefront display rules around opaque or frosted windows.

Changing rules around most of these issues will require updating the city's Title 20 zoning code, which dictates what can be built and sets guidelines for how a building can look.

City staff have suggested the adoption of a 500-foot radius between dispensaries. State law already requires dispensaries be 500 feet from places of worship and schools.

Missoula is also looking into promoting alternatives to non-transparent glass for cannabis businesses. Privacy for owners and customers has been a concern in public comments, but city staff have called transparent windows “crime prevention through environmental design.”

A draft ordinance calls for visible light transmittance of 60% or more and external reflection of 20% or less, although the ordinance allows for businesses who already have storefronts to be grandfathered in.

"These regulations should allow a structure to go through a change of use and continue to use the existing glazing without being required to add glazing or increase the transparency of existing glazing," a draft ordinance said. "Some methods for obscuring products may not be easily reversed. For example, if the existing glazing was tinted, the new business will not be required to remove the existing tinting, but could not decrease the opacity further."

City officials have also raised concerns around energy usage, which was specifically brought up during a Land Use and Planning Committee meeting on Nov. 10.  

Many marijuana grow operations use High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting, which helps the plants grow, as well as heavy-duty HVAC systems.

HID lighting "consumes a lot of electricity and generates a lot of heat. Total energy costs for indoor grow operations vary between 20-50% of total operating costs and use ten times as much energy per square foot as a typical office building in the Southwest," said Leigh Ratterman, a climate action specialist with the city, in a note.

City staff, in an executive summary, suggested Missoula update its Buildings and Construction code to prohibit the use of HID lighting. It was not clear from the documents what type of grace period there would be.

The code update could allow the city "to ensure existing cultivation businesses are working to be more efficient," said Cassie Tripard, a land use supervisor, during the same Nov. 10 meeting. 

During a public comment on Nov. 10, James Thomas, the owner of Higher Standard dispensary in Missoula, voiced concerns about area growers having to change lighting to meet the proposed rules.

The HID lights many growers in the area use are 1,000 watts, but the LED lights required under the proposed ordinance would be around 720 watts, ultimately necessitating more lights, Thomas said.

Thomas is working on switching over to LED lights, he said.

"I just want (to) point out ... this transition I'm doing, it's super expensive, right? I'm essentially having to hang two lights to every one of the old ones," Thomas told committee on Nov. 10. "There's less watts going out and my power bill is a little cheaper, but as far as the build up, you're paying electricians more money to put in lights."

Lastly, the city is looking at regulation of grows and manufacturing of marijuana products. There would be a tiered system for where large businesses can be placed — larger grows and manufacturing facilities would be placed in more industrial areas.

Final consideration on the ordinance is set for Monday, Nov. 29 at city council.

Jordan Hansen covers news and local government for the Missoulian. Shout at him on Twitter @jordyhansen or send him an email at Jordan.Hansen@Missoulian.com

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