Adult-use marijuana sales now legal in Great Falls city limits following judge’s ruling

By: - October 13, 2022 7:11 pm

David Burr displays the bud on a growing marijuana plant at Essence Vegas’ 54,000-square-foot marijuana cultivation facility on July 6, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Great Falls must now allow adult-use marijuana sales within city limits, a district court judge ruled earlier this week.

In June, owners of Green Creek Dispensary sued the city, arguing Great Falls contradicted new measures passed by the Legislature in 2021 by not processing a certificate the business needed to operate and claiming it went against a land-use ordinance.

Judge David Grubich agreed with the plaintiffs in his ruling, saying the language of the regulations, as well as the Legislature’s intent with House Bill 701, was “clear and unambiguous.”

Among other directives, HB 701 says local governments can ban dispensaries only in counties where the majority voted against adult-use marijuana sales, but Cascade County approved adult recreational use.

Cascade County is a “green county” under HB 701, meaning that a majority of voters in the county were in favor of adult-use marijuana when the issue appeared on the ballot in 2020. Counties that did not have majority voter support on marijuana, or later voted to opt-out, are considered “red counties.”

But the city prevented the Green Creek Dispensary from moving forward a different way. It rejected owners Janelle and Dale Yatsko’s application for a Safety Inspection Certificate, needed to operate within city limits, based on a 2010 city ordinance regulating land uses in violation of federal law. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

“As it stands, because voters in Cascade County voted to approve Initiative Measure No. 190 in 2020, recreational marijuana remains legal in the City until City voters decide otherwise,” the filing from Tuesday read.

In the order, the court rejected the city’s argument that it could deny the dispensary’s application for a Safety Inspection Certificate needed to operate within city limits based on the 2010 city ordinance regulating land uses in violation of federal law.

“The clear language of the statute contemplates only regulation of a marijuana business in operation. It does not allow for an interpretation which gives the City authority to regulate all marijuana businesses out of existence by completely prohibiting it,” the filing read.

The city was ordered by the court to process Janelle and Dale Yatsko’s safety inspection certification. Green Creek Dispensary has been in operation just south of Great Falls in Gibson Flats for 14 years. The application was intended for a new location they were looking to open within the city.

“The Yatskos are thrilled on behalf of their patients,” said attorney Raph Graybill, who is representing the couple. “The court’s decision upholds the rule of law and the will of the people of Great Falls.”

Voters in Great Falls could potentially decide otherwise on adult-use marijuana this November, as the city put an amendment to city code to ban marijuana businesses on the ballot.

Graybill said Thursday that if the new ballot measure passes, Great Falls would then be considered “red.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.