BILLINGS — Carbon County commissioners enacted new interim marijuana zoning regulations Thursday that will put a Roberts dispensary out of business after the business had drawn ire from locals due to its proximity to the Roberts School.
Mountain Organics has been operating legally inside the old Y Stop gas station in Roberts since early January. Recreational marijuana sales became legal across Montana on Jan. 1. Many Roberts community members were upset with the business location - approximately 100 feet across Highway 212 from the school property line.
"You’re in the wrong spot. You’ve made a black eye of our town," said Sanford Langager, one of many to speak up against the dispensary Thursday.
Dozens packed the commissioners' office in what Chairman Bill Bullock called the busiest meeting in years.
Roberts school Superintendent Alex Ator also spoke, saying he wanted Mountain Organics to be shut down. But Bullock reminded people that wasn’t really on the table because of a provision, known as a non-conforming act, listed in the agenda packet that protects already established businesses.
"These issues probably won’t do anything to affect the business itself, because it’s there, it’s established, it’s open," Bullock said.
Mountain Organics owner Robert Carson was at the meeting and spoke on his own behalf. After the public comment period ended, it was clear where the commissioners stood on the issue.
"Eighty to 90 days ago, this was a crime," said Commissioner Scott Miller. "So people are scared of this because it's the unknown. So as commissioners, it's our responsibility to ensure we provide safety."
The biggest clause inside the interim zoning packet says no marijuana businesses can be within 1,000 feet of the property line of a number of facilities, including schools. That would obviously apply to Mountain Organics, but again, they were grandfathered in after obtaining a license to operate from the Montana Department of Revenue.
Bullock was about to call for a vote on the resolution when Commissioner Scott Blain said he had a last-second amendment to propose, to include all marijuana business commercial permits that hadn’t been processed yet - even if they had been filed already - into the new regulations.
"Just the ones in the pipeline now which have applied - not doing anything to the people in the room," Blain said.
Blain then asked how many there were. He was told four, including Mountain Organics. Blain then hesitated for a while before continuing with comment. Eventually, the amendment was proposed, seconded by Miller, and unanimously approved.
Afterward, Carson said he knew it was coming.
"That’s what this whole meeting was staged around," he said. "Tomorrow is the final day for them to respond to my permit. They wanted to make sure they could get me in the day before and make sure they could publicly say no."
Carson was asked if he believed the last-second amendment was pre-ordained, "yes. I've been warned several times," he said. "This is the good ol’ boys club, and you’re either in or you’re not."
The new regulations go into effect immediately. It means Carson is not allowed to operate in his current location, which he says he's put most of his life savings into.
"I’m crippled, I’m done. I'm all the way out," he said. "Even if I would have got in, the overwhelming pushback, it’s not worth it. The stress that comes with this, even them getting away with this, it’s a relief not to have to deal with this anymore."
He says he has hired a law firm and will consider legal action. "We’ll see what they say, but again, do I want to operate in this environment? Not really."