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A lawsuit has been filed in district court challenging Great Falls’ prohibition on marijuana dispensaries within the city limits.

This story also appeared in The Electric

Lawyers for Dale and Janelle Yatsko filed the lawsuit in district court on June 27.

Earlier this year, the Yatskos submitted an application for a safety inspection with the city for a recreational marijuana dispensary within the city limits. City staff did not process the application, or accept a fee from the Yatskos, since city code currently prohibits the sale of medical and recreational marijuana as it remains a federally prohibited substance.

The Yatskos appealed the decision, and during a special meeting in April, city commissioners voted 4-1 to uphold the staff decision.

Commissioners did direct staff to send the question of marijuana sales to the November ballot, and staff are currently developing language for that measure, as well as a regulatory framework for marijuana operations in the city limits should voters opt to allow marijuana within the city limits.

The city enacted the prohibition of marijuana, both medical and recreational, in 2010, and the rule has not been challenged since, including in the years that medical marijuana was legalized in Montana and Cascade County, but not within the city limits.

The Yatskos operate a marijuana dispensary in the county and also have pending litigation before the Montana Supreme Court over that operation.

The same scenario occurred last fall when an application was submitted for a marijuana business within the city and staff did not process the application. That applicant opted not to pursue any further action, according to City Attorney Jeff Hindoien.

Cascade County allows medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries in the heavy industrial district only, and the county’s zoning rules do not apply within the city.

In 2020, a statewide initiative, I-190, was on the November ballot asking voters whether recreational marijuana should be legalized. Cascade County voters approved the measure. The initiative had language prohibiting local governments from regulating the sale of medical marijuana, but the 2021 Legislature removed much of that language, and the city argues that it retains self-governing powers and the authority to regulate the sale of marijuana.

Counties that approved I-190 are considered green counties and those that rejected it are considered red counties.

Raph Graybill, the attorney for the Yatskos, said during an April hearing that language remains in the law that does not allow local governments to outright prohibit the sale of marijuana in green counties, but that it can regulate it through zoning and other regulations. City attorneys and other staff disagree.

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Jenn Rowell is founder and editor of local news organization The Electric in Great Falls, focusing on local government, military and economic development. She has previously worked for newspapers in Montana, Alabama and Virginia.