BILLINGS — The discussion on marijuana in Billings continued Tuesday night, specifically with zoning for dispensaries if local voters approve recreational sales next month.

If sales are approved, it means you could see new dispensaries pop up in certain parts of the city. But the main question is: how many dispensaries could be allowed to open in Billings?

Well, there is a chance that a limited number of licenses could be handed out.  

The Zoning Commission met and made some changes to the original plan for marijuana businesses.

Ming Cabrera, with the Billings Heights Business Association, spoke at the hearing and says he wants less sideboards on where marijuana dispensaries can open up.

He says too many regulations are bad for business.

"I walk Main Street in The Heights every three months, and our biggest concern out there is the fact that we don't have enough retail spaces. Make it available for people so we can continue to grow in our city," Cabrera said.

Originally, the idea was to keep dispensaries 1,000 feet away from churches, schools and parks. After hearing public comments, the Zoning Commission voted to lower that number to 600 feet. If it had stayed at 1,000 feet, Ming says it would hurt business opportunities in the Heights.

"You're asking people to drive way out there to get to a dispensary when they have them way out there by Shepherd on that corner out there, that's the nearest one out there," Cabrera said.

In addition, Neil Kiner thinks dispensaries shouldn't be treated like the marijuana manufacturing and cultivating buildings.

The commission later voted to put dispensaries into corridor mixed used districts; Areas like Grand and Central Avenues. At first, they were only in commercial and industrial areas.

"I don't really agree with how they are grouped, with the manufacturing, the cultivating and the dispensing. I don't want this to be a Grand Avenue casino run either, but I do think a happy medium is needed," Kiner said.

The zoning recommendations now go to City Council for final approval, with a public hearing coming up on Oct. 25.  

However, there's still the possibility that all this planning could get thrown out if voters do not allow recreational cannabis sales in city limits on Nov. 2.

Ultimately, the commission decided to allow dispensaries to be 300 feet from residential zones as well, but City Council will have the final say on the rules.

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