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Great Falls marijuana shop owners have sued over a citywide ban

State lawmakers got an update on September 14 on Montana’s new medical marijuana regulation program.

The owners of a marijuana dispensary hoping to set up shop in Great Falls are challenging a city-wide ban on adult-use dispensaries.

Janelle and Dale Yatsko filed suit against Great Falls on Monday after city commissioners voted four-to-one in April to deny the couple’s appeal to operate within the city, according to filing documents.

Attorney Raph Graybill is representing the Yatskos and says the city ban is illegal because Cascade County voters approved recreational marijuana in 2020.

“The City of Great Falls, in this case, has essentially said, ‘We don’t care what state law says, we’re going to ban dispensaries anyway,’” Graybill says.

After voters approved recreational marijuana statewide, the Legislature passed a bill allowing residents to reverse legalization in their city or county. Great Falls commissioners plan to ask local voters on the November ballot if adult-use and medical marijuana sales should be banned within the city. A similar initiative in Yellowstone County failed after voters defeated a referendum in the June primary that would have banned recreational marijuana county-wide.

According to filing documents, the Yatskos secured a location within Great Falls for a dispensary in early 2022. When the couple applied for a safety inspection of the site on Feb. 10, the Great Falls Fire Rescue department declined to process the application and referred the Yatskos to Great Falls City Attorney Jeff Hindoien.

On March 16, Great Falls City Manager Greg Doyon responded to the Yatskos and denied their permit application, citing the current federal ban on marijuana as a reason.

“[A]lthough the State of Montana has now legally authorized certain activities relating to adult-use marijuana […] there have been no changes on the federal law front with respect to marijuana-related activities,” Doyon wrote to the Yatskos, according to the suit.

Graybill says the Yatskos are seeking a court order to require Great Falls to process a business permit for their dispensary. He says Great Falls has only a city policy prohibiting marijuana, and hasn’t had an election on the issue, which is required by state law.

He says a hearing in the case may be set within the next month or two.

A spokesperson for Hindoien says the city does not comment on pending litigation.

Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

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