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City council considers allowing marijuana shops in Red Lodge

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Posted at 10:04 PM, May 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-09 13:26:37-04

RED LODGE - The Red Lodge City Council is looking into zoning that would allow for marijuana shops in downtown Red Lodge.

They are allowed outside the city limits in Carbon County, but not inside Red Lodge. Some had concerns about shops being in the historic, walkable district.

"The draw to this town is tourism," said Steve Mikels, business owner. "We're not saying you can't have them in town, we're saying they don't need to be in the historic district."

Like many Montana towns, Red Lodge is trying to figure out what to do with marijuana dispensaries, whether to allow them or keep them out.

"It may be legal, but it does not fit into a tourism western town experience," Mikels said.

A ballot measure in 2020 legalized marijuana and a Montana Legislature bill gave much of the power over implementation to city and county governments, meaning you'll find dispensaries in Carbon County, but not in the Red Lodge city limits.

"You can allow it," said Lee Stevens, a Red Lodge resident. "It's legal now but I don't recall anywhere in the wording of the law that obligates a municipality to make it to have a carve out where it's easier, or they're obligated to ensure that a marijuana dispensary is opened up."

Red Lodge's ordinance currently states marijuana shops are only legal if and when both the federal and state governments recognize marijuana as legal.

On Tuesday, the City Council will vote to remove the federal requirement, while also changing zoning to increase the distance between dispensaries and schools and daycares.

Mikels says he's not fighting recreational marijuana shops within the city limits, just in the walkable or historic section of downtown Red Lodge.

"You derive so much revenue from tourism and from foot traffic and that tourism and foot traffic that's in that main district needs to be addressed and needs to be respected," Mikels said.

MTN News contacted the mayor and was unable to reconnect for an interview.

All six of Red Lodge's city council members, as well as a marijuana shop owner in Carbon County declined interviews, hung up on us or did not return our calls asking about the proposed change.

Councilmember Terri Durbin said she would comment after the vote on Tuesday. She referred us to her previously written comments.

In an email to Mikels: "Overwhelmingly, the citizens of Red Lodge have approved marijuana for recreational use. Why wouldn't we allow dispensaries in our town and collect the revenue?"

But Lee Stevens, who's running for City Council, disagrees, and he and many others believe allowing dispensaries is a slippery slope.

"It will completely change the whole makeup of this city," Stevens said.