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Dispensary on Baker Ave gains planning board recommendation

by JULIE ENGLER
Whitefish Pilot | August 10, 2022 1:00 AM

The Whitefish planning board recently voted 3-1 in favor of recommending a conditional use permit for Vincent Remmel to operate a marijuana dispensary at 333 Baker Avenue.

The green building was previously used as a physical therapy office and is directly across Baker Avenue from the Whitefish Credit Union.

This request required a full conditional use permit (CUP), rather than the administrative CUP that is typically required for dispensaries in Whitefish, due to a comment received from the Whitefish Credit Union who contend that the proposal will adversely or injuriously affect their personal or legal interest. According to the staff report, a condition could not be placed on the permit to remediate the concern, so the city attorney suggested making it a full conditional use permit.

Ian Stewart, the applicant’s representative with OBR Management LLC, explained that the store in Whitefish would be an expansion of the dispensary in Evergreen, where the cultivation and manufacturing facility is located. He cited university studies and read directly from the study mentioned in the letter of opposition from the Whitefish Credit Union.

“The studies examining the relationship between dispensaries and crime at the neighborhood level have also yielded sparse evidence of increased crime,” he read.

He said OBR Management has retained compliance counsel out of Bozeman to help inform all their decisions and ensure that they are complying with the laws.

“The application itself, as it sits now, is 110% compliant with all state and local laws regarding distances from other businesses,” Stewart said.

A representative of the Whitefish Credit Union, Josh Wilson, said the sale of marijuana represented a direct threat to the physical safety of the credit union’s employees. The credit union submitted a letter to the city in opposition to the dispensary that cited two university studies regarding the relationship between marijuana facilities and crime rates.

“The two studies… do acknowledge that there is no rise in violent crime,” Wilson conceded. “But the results indicate that street segments with a recreational marijana dispensary experience statistically significant increases in the level of property crime relative to controls.”

The city received several letters in opposition to the dispensary, one in favor of it and two members of the community spoke in opposition during the public hearing.

City staff recommended approval of the request and found that it adhered to the stringent criteria the city has for marijuana dispensaries.

Whitefish City Planner Dave Taylor said there are three churches nearby but this dispensary meets all city standards for dispensaries, including the distancing requirements under State of Montana law which the City Code defers to in its special provisions for marijuana facilities.

Planning Board member Whitney Beckham moved to approve the request and spoke about “not zoning out,” that is, making it impossible for those businesses to exist.

“Months ago we dealt with zoning and this very issue and decided where a marijuana dispensary can and cannot be,” Beckham said. “It was a heated debate with a lot of public comment and that was settled.”

The motion passed 3-1 and the board’s recommendation will go to the city council who will hear this item on Aug. 15.

At the start of 2022, dispensaries that already had licenses to sell medical marijuana were allowed to begin selling recreational marijuana, too, either in their established shops or they could apply for permits to open new locations. In January, the City of Whitefish approved eight applications to operate dispensaries within the city limits, all for established dispensaries looking to open locations in Whitefish. A couple of those marijuana businesses recently opened while others are preparing to open soon.

Marijuana dispensaries that did not have an established license to sell medical marijuana will be allowed to submit applications to open new dispensaries in Montana in July 2023.

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