It took only one day after a cap was proposed for the number of medical marijuana dispensary applicants to exceed the number of available slots in Bozeman, Montana.
Eight medical marijuana providers applied Tuesday for licenses to do business in Bozeman, leaving the city with one more application than the 32-dispensary cap the City Commission has proposed.
“It’s too early to know what the final end game is because we’ll have to see what happens with those applications,” said Commissioner Chris Mehl on Tuesday afternoon, reports Amanda Ricker at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
If the city ends up with too many people competing for not enough dispensary licenses, “We’ll have to deal with that if and when it happens,” Mehl said.
Commissioners voted late Monday night to provisionally cap the number of medical marijuana dispensaries allowed in the city at 32 — or one per 1,250 residents — for a year while the city experiments with new rules for cannabis.
If the dispensary cap receives final approval, the city would require providers with four or more patients to buy a city business license. Providers outside city limits would need a license if they deliver to patients in Bozeman.
As of Monday, the city had already granted 16 business licenses to medical marijuana providers and was reviewing nine applications.
By Tuesday afternoon, the number of applications under review had risen to 17, according to Mehl, which means at least one of the applicants wouldn’t be allowed to open a dispensary with a 32-store cap.
Bozeman will review the applications in the order in which they’ve been received, according to City Attorney Greg Sullivan, but which gets get approved first depends on how complicated they are. For instance, if a prospective dispensary owner must make changes to a building, that application might take longer to get approval.
If a dispensary is caught operating with a license, the penalty could be a $500 fine or six months in jail, the standard penalty for a misdemeanor offense, Sullivan said.
Each time a provider is found operating without a license, they would be charged with a separate, additional offense, with fines or jail time mounting.
The 32-dispensary cap is part of an ordinance the commission adopted Monday night that outlines how medical marijuana can be used, sold and grown in Bozeman.
The regulations could become final as early as August 25, or 30 days after a second review and final adoption.
The head of the Montana Medical Growers Association said he hopes commissioners will rethink their plan.
“It is our hope that they will relook at that and focus not on the number of caregivers, but focus on limiting the number of storefronts,” said Jim Gingery, executive director of MMGA.
More than 500 providers already serve more than 2,700 patients in the Gallatin Valley, according to Gingery, and capping the number of providers now would be problematic.
According to Mehl, who proposed the 32-dispensary cap, it is intended to give the city time to see how the medical marijuana industry will work locally and to examine how to best regulate it. Once businesses are established, it is difficult for the city to shut them down, Mehl said.
City officials have heard that most providers in the valley have fewer than four patients and would thus not be affected by the cap, according to Mehl.
Mayor Jeff Krauss was the only commission member who voted against the cap Monday night. The Mayor said on Tuesday that he fears capping the number of dispensaries at 32 will drive medical marijuana providers underground.
“We want to know who they are and we want to know what they’re doing and we want to know that they’re legal,” Krauss said.
The provisional ordinance adopted Monday would also make it a misdemeanor for patients to use medical marijuana in public, with violators subject to $500 fines and six-month jail terms.
Gingery, however, suggested the offense should be civil rather than criminal, with smaller fines and no jail time.
“We don’t believe that medicating in any circumstances should be a criminal offense,” Gingery said.