legal marijuana
Credit: Adobe stock. May not be republished without license.

A Cascade County District Court judge has overturned a municipal prohibition on cannabis dispensaries in Great Falls and ordered local officials to permit a new recreational marijuana shop as soon as possible. 

Tuesday’s ruling comes just weeks before Great Falls residents will vote on whether to allow the sale of medical or recreational cannabis in the city limits, despite residents supporting sales by a wide margin in 2020 when voters statewide legalized recreational cannabis. 

In 2020, Cascade County voters supported recreational legalization 54.7% to 45.3%, making it a “green” county where cannabis sales would automatically be allowed. However, “green” counties and municipalities can put forth a ballot initiative to make it illegal to sell recreational cannabis. On the other side of the equation, “red” counties can ask voters to make the drug legal.

In early 2022, Janelle and Dale Yatsko, owners of Green Creek Dispensary just outside of city limits, secured property within Great Falls to open a second location to sell adult-use cannabis. The owners went about getting the proper state and local approvals to open, but when it came time for the fire department to inspect the property, it did not process the application and instead referred the Yatskos to the city attorney.

“The Yatkos are thrilled on behalf of their patients. The Court’s decision upholds the rule of law and the will of the people of Great Falls.”

Attorney Raph Graybill

The owners met with the city attorney and later the city manager, who confirmed that the municipality would not process its safety inspection application. The city manager cited a local ordinance that prohibited “any medical marijuana activities” within city limits. The manager went on to write that while the state may have legalized cannabis use, the federal government had not. The Yatskos then went to the city commission, which held a special meeting about the matter on April 19, where it denied the appeal. The owners then went to court. 

On Tuesday, Judge David Grubich ruled in the petitioner’s favor, writing that “the cultivation and sale of adult-use cannabis [are] authorized by state law within Cascade County, including within the City of Great Falls.” He ordered the city to process the safety certificate as soon as possible.

related

Montana marijuana FAQ

On Jan. 1, 2022, adult-use recreational marijuana will become available for purchase in Montana. We’ve put together a one-stop guide to answer the most common questions about the new industry, from possession limits to travel tips and everything in between.

In a statement, Raph Graybill, an attorney for the Yatskos, said, “the Yatkos are thrilled on behalf of their patients. The Court’s decision upholds the rule of law and the will of the people of Great Falls.”

Of course, whether or not Green Creek Dispensary can open a second location depends on if voters again approve cannabis on the ballot next month. Local voters will face these questions: county-wide voters will decide if they want a 3% local sales tax on recreational and medical cannabis, and city residents will decide if they want to ban “pot shops” altogether. While Cascade County voters passed recreational cannabis by a wide margin in 2020, it was even wider within the city limits. 

latest stories

Forest Service turns back Holland Lake proposal, for now

In a letter to the developer, POWDR of Park City, Utah, the Forest Service stated that there were inaccuracies with its Master Development Plan. The letter has not been released to the public, but among the issues that had been pointed out by a grassroots group organized against the development, Save Holland Lake, was the…

The resignation that wasn’t

On Aug. 12, 21-year-old Billings Republican Rep. Mallerie Stromswold signed a letter withdrawing from her legislative race and forwarded it to the Yellowstone County Republican Central Committee, which, after a delay, mailed it to the Montana Secretary of State. Today she’s preparing to serve her newly elected term. What happened?

Justin Franz is a freelance writer, photographer and editor based in Whitefish. Originally from Maine, he is a graduate of the University of Montana's School of Journalism and worked for the Flathead Beacon for nine years. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Seattle Times and New York Times. Find him at justinfranz.com or follow him on Twitter.