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Montana Lawsuit Filed to Challenge City’s Marijuana Ban

A Montanan couple filed a lawsuit in district court against the decision of the Great Falls municipality to ban marijuana dispensaries within its jurisdiction.

The text of the lawsuit argues the ban violates House Bill 701, which legalized recreational cannabis sales in Montana.

Under Montana’s marijuana laws, cities and counties can institute further rules and regulations concerning cannabis sales, but the couple’s lawyers argue that Great Falls cannot outright ban it without putting the issue to a local referendum vote. Such a vote has not yet taken place.

“State law allows dispensaries to operate legally in Great Falls, unless the citizens of Great Falls say otherwise through an election,” said the couple’s attorney, Raph Graybill, by way of a press release. “The city’s ban violates state law and goes against the clear will of the people.”

The couple, Janelle and Dale Yatsko, ran a medical cannabis dispensary outside city limits for 14 years before obtaining a license from the state Cannabis Control Division to cultivate and sell recreational marijuana soon after HB 701 was signed into law.

The Yatsko’s then filed an application for a Safety Inspection Certificate with the city of Great Falls as part of the regulatory process for operating a dispensary within city limits.

However, City Manager Greg Doyton informed the Yatsko’s their application had been denied on the basis that federal cannabis prohibition was still in force and that the city had passed an ordinance in 2010 prohibiting marijuana sales and cultivation within city limits.

In the meantime, Cascade County Commissioners voted unanimously to restrict cannabis dispensary zoning to two I-2 industrial zones, outwith Great Falls city limits.

As a result, the Yatsko’s dispensary was subject to legal challenges for operating their business outside these zones. Late last year, a district court judge stepped in to issue a temporary restraining measure preventing Cascade County from pursuing the Yatskos for zoning violations. Cascade County officials have since appealed this decision to Montana’s Supreme Court.

Following Doyton’s denial of their application, the Yatsko’s filed an appeal with city commissioners who then voted 4-1 to uphold the original decision and arrange a referendum for the November ballot on whether Great Falls should opt-out of recreational marijuana sales.

On Election Day 2020, 54.7 percent of Cascade County voters chose to approve Initiative-190, which proposed legalizing marijuana cultivation and sales. A further provision in this initiative, enacted into law through HB 701, means that marijuana sales and cultivation can only be prohibited in Cascade County by another ballot referendum.

The Yatskos argue though that they shouldn’t need to wait for the results of a potential vote on the issue in November before opening their recreational dispensary and grow site, since Cascade County already voted in favor of legal sales and cultivation, and they now have their license from the state cannabis regulator.

The couple are therefore asking for a preliminary and permanent injunction to force the city to repeal its ban on cannabis sales and cultivation within Great Falls.

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