When Belgrade voters considered a 2004 initiative to make medical marijuana legal in Montana, 54 percent said yes, according to election records.
When Belgrade residents addressed the City Council Monday over a proposed ban of medical-marijuana businesses, 80 percent spoke in favor of the industry.
And when the council took those comments under advisement and pondered the issue, they voted 4-2 in favor of a ban. A public hearing and final vote was set for July 6.
The council's vote nearly mirrored one on May 24 by the Belgrade City-County Planning Board, which opted to recommend an all-out ban of commercial marijuana purveyors in the city limits and in a one-mile zoning jurisdiction around the city.
The ban, if approved in final form next month, would not affect any medical marijuana caregivers who already have a license to do business in Belgrade, and it would not affect registered marijuana users, who can grow up to six plants for personal use, city officials said.
City Attorney Rick Ramler told the council that not to grandfather existing operations would be "most likely a taking." The city would have to buy out the businesses in order to force them to cease operations in Belgrade. He also said caregivers who are licensed to distribute medical pot in the city limits will still be able to make deliveries in town even if the ban takes effect.
About a dozen people, mostly caregivers, told the council not to ban the substance. Some said "sensible regulations" are appropriate, but one argued that an all-out ban of the commercial pot trade would force patients to find "black market" providers.
Some caregivers talked about the economic impact medical marijuana has in Belgrade. Commercial grower Les Chaumberg said he has invested more than $200,000 in his business, housed outside the city limits but in the one-mile doughnut area. He said he employs 15 people there.
"We put $200,000 into opening," he said. "That went into the community."
Robert Carpenter told the council his business employs 22 people, and that he pays state and federal taxes on top of spending money in the city for supplies and wages. He said no local jurisdiction that approved med-pot has lost any kind of federal funding, as members of the planning board feared.
"The only argument that's been put forth is a straw man argument," he said.
Two people spoke in favor of a ban, one on moral grounds and another who she said she wasn't hired by a local caregiver.
Charles Thomas, owner of USA Medical Cannabis in Belgrade, said he wants to help find "a solution that's best for the community."
But Mayor Russ Nelson said banning commercial pot might leave Thomas with a monopoly, since his store on West Main Street in Belgrade will be grandfathered in.
But Councilman John Youngberg disagreed. "We've heard from four caregivers in the Belgrade area. How many storefronts, businesses do you need?"
In the end, Youngberg and Council members Tudor Gee, Mark Criner and Brad Cooper voted for the ban. Councilwomen Connie Campbell and Anne Koentopp voted against.