While there may be no stopping the legalization of medical marijuana anymore, there is still a lot of interference as evidenced by a Montana medical marijuana dispensary that lawmakers are trying to push out. Due to zoning laws the Billings’ City Council banned any new dispensaries and is trying to get rid of existing ones, including a fairly large provider for the state. Do you think cities just use zoning as an excuse, or is it that they are truly biased against marijuana in any form?

The owners of a medical marijuana provider business, as well as one of their patients, is suing the city of Billings over its ban on dispensaries within city limits.

Rich Abromeit, co-owner of Montana Advanced Caregivers, and Nancy Moore are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in district court Thursday.

The suit calls Billings’ zoning prohibition on medical marijuana businesses an “abuse of and unlawful exercise of the police power.” The ban would force Montana Advanced Caregivers out of Billings, though it was licensed by the city before any zoning ban went into effect.

The business was licensed in 2009 and has operated on the South Side. The lawsuit claims that $2.5 million has been invested into the operation, which is considered one of the larger provider businesses and serves around 460 patients.

On Aug. 29, the Billings City Council voted to ban providers from operating businesses in the city. It already had an interim ordinance banning new providers from setting up shop.

The decision was justified as a zoning issue, saying that land use in Billings can’t violate local, state or federal law.

All marijuana use remains illegal under federal law, even though Montana has legalized medical marijuana.

A judge has ordered the city not to enforce the ban while the lawsuit is ongoing.

The lawsuit claims that the ordinance banning provider operations are unconstitutional and was not “passed for the purpose of public health, safety and welfare,” but rather “ulterior purposes other than required by statute.”

The plaintiffs also say the prohibition violates the rights of Montana Advanced Caregivers and Moore, who is a registered patient. Moore has multiple sclerosis and has said that medical marijuana allowed her to get away from harsh prescription medications.

The lawsuit says that the city’s ordinance “carves out a class of Montana citizens who reside in or rely upon dispensaries located in Billings whose city council can, and does, treat them differently than similarly situated registered cardholders … ”

On Friday, District Judge Gregory Todd signed a temporary restraining order that puts the city’s provider ban on hold until after later court hearings. None had been scheduled as of Friday.

Abromeit and co-owner Jason Smith declined to comment Friday about the ongoing case.

In an email statement, Billings City Attorney Brent Brooks said the lawsuit is being reviewed.

He also said that Mayor Tom Hanel and the City Council “have requested additional information from city staff to be presented during the October 16, 2017, council work session.”

The council is still undecided whether existing providers in city limits will be “grandfathered in” and allowed to stay put. The issue is scheduled for potential council action on Nov. 13.

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