STEVENSVILLE - The Stevensville Planning and Zoning Committee will seek the opinion of the community this week as it works to develop new zoning regulations regarding the local growth and distribution of medical marijuana.
The committee is inviting Stevensville residents to attend a Wednesday planning board meeting to offer their input on the hot-button issue.
"Basically, we're going into this with no preconceived notions," said Committee Chairman Ben Longbottom. "We just want to know what the people of Stevensville would suggest we incorporate into our zoning ordinances."
Earlier this month, the Stevensville Town Council joined a growing number of communities around the state in passing an interim ordinance banning the commercial growth, sale or distribution of medical marijuana within town limits and within a one-mile radius of the town for six months.
"There is one establishment in operation that's probably right on the fringe of that ... but they were already in operation, so they would be grandfathered in," explained Longbottom, "but no new ones can open at all until such time as we adopt some permanent ordinances."
Hamilton passed an interim zoning ordinance in March temporarily regulating the location of new dispensaries, and other Montana communities, such as Kalispell and Bozeman, have shown interest in or enacted similar regulations and moratoriums.
The measures have, in part, constituted a municipal response to the lack of state regulation that accompanied the 2006 voter initiative that made marijuana legal to use medicinally.
"The state's regulations are very incomplete and vague," said Longbottom. "They simply state what is allowed ... and defines what people have to do to get a card. So, those things are out of our hands, but what we can control is where it's sold and that type of thing."
Longbottom doesn't pretend to know what the regulations will eventually allow, but has an idea of the concerns that could be addressed.
"Within a zoning area, it might not be allowed, for instance, within a certain distance from churches and schools, day cares and this type of thing," he said.
He added that any final regulation will apply only to commercial growth and distribution and not to personal use.
"In my opinion we can not stop a person who has a legal medical marijuana card from growing six plants, probably in any area if it's for their own consumption," he said, "but we can regulate any commercial grow and any selling or distributing."
Longbottom hopes that the opinion of the public will help the committee define a locally influenced direction for future regulation.
"That's the whole purpose of this meeting is to try to find out" what the people think, he said. "You know we won't get a consensus, but we certainly should be able to get some ideas and suggestions."
The planning board meeting is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday in Stevensville City Council Chambers.
Ravalli Republic reporter Will Moss can be reached at 363-3300 or email@example.com.