Missoula County, city to consider energy consumed by marijuana grow operations


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(Courthouse News photo)

While the city and county of Missoula consider new zoning around the sale and location of recreational marijuana, they’ll also turn an eye toward the energy consumed by the facilities that grow the product.

The city’s planning department has been working on zoning laws that will prevent the saturation of dispensaries in a single area and ensure storefronts remain active and transparent, among other things. The City Council is expected to take that issue up next week.

The county also has embarked on an overhaul of its own zoning codes, and marijuana will be included in the process now that the manufacturing and sale of the product is legal in Montana.

“I suspect in our zoning update we will be giving some thought to marijuana grow operations,” said Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “It’s been a point of conversation for us, not just the location of such facilities, but also the energy use.”

Concerns over the energy consumption of marijuana grow operations surfaced in the Consolidated Planning Board last month, particularly around the production process that could produce pot on an industrial scale.

A 2012 study on the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production estimated that cultivation consumed as much as 1% of all electricity in the U.S. at that time. The number of grow operations has increased since then, and some are likely to operate in Missoula.

“Some of them aren’t as bad as cryptocurrency, but some are energy hogs,” said Strohmaier. “We can’t be set back by that with our energy, conservation and clean electricity goals.”

Last year, Missoula County made permanent its ordinance surrounding cryptocurrency mining operations. Among other things, a mining operation must develop or purchase enough new renewable energy to offset its electrical consumption.

City planners said energy concerns have risen on their side as well, but potential remedies or controls haven’t been detailed. Unlike the county, the city hasn’t passed any measures regulating energy-intensive businesses.

“Energy use is a big concern,” said Dale Bickell, the CAO of Missoula. “We are taking steps to address that as well.”

According to city, around 70 cannabis related business are already operating in Missoula. Of those, 50 are medical marijuana dispensaries while the remaining 20 are cultivators and manufactures.

Existing establishments will be able to sell recreational products on Jan. 1, and others will be able to apply for a permit for recreational sales by the middle of next year. Missoula voters this week approved a 3% tax on recreational marijuana, as did Billings.

“I’m not aware of anyone else having it on the ballot at this point,” said Chris Lounsbury, the county’s CAO. “I think we were the only two counties that ran it in this election.”

The 3% tax on recreational marijuana in Missoula County is expected to net around $300,000. Missoula County will receive 50% of that revenue, the city 45% and the Montana Department of Revenue 5%.

The Department of Revenue will collect the tax and distributed it back to the city and county.

“The tax will start being collected on Jan. 31,” said Lounsbury. “Hopefully we’ll see that revenue in the Second Quarter of the calendar year. It’s not a large sum of revenue, but it’s something.”

The revenue could be used to hold down property tax increases and bolster housing.

“The potential uses could be to mitigate any future increases to property taxes and also addressing our housing crisis in Missoula County,” said Strohmaier. “There could be other uses to which those are put, and we’re certainly listening to the public.”

Missoula’s marijuana zoning takes shape, but questions on energy use linger



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