County will allow medical marijuana dispensaries

By: 
DEB HILL
Managing Editor

People pack the office of the Fergus County commissioners Monday afternoon to comment on a proposed ordinance declaring medical marijuana sale and use a nuisance. After much public input, the ordinance was not adopted.

Photo by Deb Hill

 

Almost 30 people packed into the County commissioners’ office Monday afternoon for a public hearing on whether the County should adopt an ordinance declaring the sale and public use of medical marijuana to be a “nuisance,” and therefore not allowed in Fergus County. The majority of those who spoke opposed adoption of such an ordinance. At least one medical marijuana dispensary has recently opened in Fergus County.

Monday’s meeting marked the official first reading of the ordinance, according to Commission Presiding Officer Carl Seilstad.

 

Medical marijuana helpful for some

Those who attended the meeting to speak in favor of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries ranged from seniors to veterans to people with chronic illnesses. Many told personal stories of how the use of medical marijuana improved their lives when more mainstream medical practices could not help.

“My wife was on medical marijuana,” said Earl Tresch. “She couldn’t eat. The doctors prescribed all types of medicine for her so she could eat, but it didn’t work. She was a 150-pound woman, and she was down to 116 pounds. Only medical marijuana helped. There’s a lot about this that is good. Having had a family member hooked on opiods, I’d much rather have medical marijuana.”

“This is the only medication that’s kept me alive,” said Eric Billings. “There are so many unreasonable conditions in here [the ordinance] that would throw a sick person like me in jail. My medications run more than $15,000 a month. If the county would like to pick that up while I’m in jail, that would be great.”

“I went to give blood last month,” Ben Tuss told the commissioners. “They said I can’t give because of one of the prescription medications I’m taking. But there’s nothing in here [the list of blood donor rules] about medical marijuana – I could still give blood. I don’t support this ordinance.”

 

Don’t oppose, regulate

Others suggested the commissioners rethink the proposed ordinance, perhaps including a tax on medical marijuana. Others felt the county should wait for the state to make a ruling so the county ordinance would be aligned with state regulations.

“In the past couple of weeks there have been several articles about what the state is working on,” said Ruth Wicks. “Let’s wait and see what kind of regulatory guidelines we have, and how reasonable it is for a county or local community to manage this.”

“Every one of us that has to go to Billings to get medical marijuana, we’re not going to stop,” said Scott Hugill. “When we go, that’s not all we pick up. We stop for lunch; we go to CostCo. You’re taking money out of Lewistown. Why not put a tax on medical marijuana? I’d be happy to pay a tax if it was reasonable.”

Seilstad said the county is looking into the legality of taxing medical marijuana.

“We don’t know if it’s legal yet,” he said. “Ennis and Hardin have ordinances that require the dispensaries to have city licenses. We’re looking into it.”

Many who spoke compared the sale of medical marijuana to the sale of liquor or cigarettes.

“This is business suppression,” asserted Mike Chapman. “It will deny people the ability to grow and dispense legally, just the way the liquor store down the street here does, just the way cigarettes are sold. We need to get over ourselves.”

“I think we need to wait,” said Tom Wojtowick. “This is about a medical concern, not criminality. If you want to do away with criminality, I suggest you ban all alcohol in Fergus County.”

Commissioner Sandy Youngbauer asked to be able to comment on behalf of the American Legion.

“Based on a nationwide survey of veterans, the American Legion is pushing Congress to remove marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act,” she said. “Many veterans are finding it has beneficial medical properties.”

 

Concerns about illegality

Not everyone in the crowd opposed the ordinance. At least two, Lewistown Assistant Police Chief Ryan Berry and Moore Rural Fire Chief Jerry Simpson, urged the commissioners to pass it.

“Until the Federal government changes the law, it’s still illegal,” Simpson said. “I’m for this ordinance.”

“There are problems with dispensaries around the state, with break-ins and other crime,” Berry said. “I support this ordinance.”

After nearly an hour of public comments, Seilstad asked the commissioners what action they wanted to take on the ordinance.

“Is there a motion on the medical marijuana ordinance?” he asked.

He was greeted with silence. No motion was made.

 “This ordinance, the way it was written, is dead,” Seilstad told the crowd. “As we’ve said all along, it was presented to us and we took action. If we do anything like what was discussed here today, with taxes or licenses, we will need another process to adopt that just like this one.”

“When issues are brought to us, we will put them out there,” Commissioner Ross Butcher said. “But I don’t think any of us are interested in stopping sick people from getting their medical marijuana.”

 

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