Butte-Silver Bow commissioners voted in favor of a medical marijuana moratorium Wednesday - but not by a wide enough margin.

Caregivers are still eligible to receive licenses for their business in the county after a proposed emergency moratorium could not garner a two-thirds majority.

For a moment though, it looked like it had.

Commissioners voted 6-4 in favor of the moratorium and initially it seemed as if it would go on the books. But later, because of the nature how the action was brought to the council, county attorney Eileen Joyce noted that the proposal needed a super majority, or two-thirds, to pass.

Council Chairman Dave Palmer brought the action before council in a rush after hearing that area youths had recently been finding it easier to get marijuana. He asked the council to put an emergency moratorium in effect until the Legislature convenes next year and revisits the Medical Marijuana Act.

Palmer said he wanted to "slow down" that industry's growth in the city.

Hours before the moratorium was to be decided on Wednesday, four more people applied for medical marijuana licenses in the county, bringing the total number of caregivers conducting legal business in Butte-Silver Bow to about 20.

"The sole purpose of this ordinance is to protect the youth," said Palmer. "This is getting out of hand."

Commissioners debated Palmer's position.

Mike Sheehy said the county should "stay out of it" and obey the desires of the electorate, who passed the law in 2004.

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Dan Foley said there is no emergency that necessitated this action and said the council is responding to the "stigma" of marijuana users instead of any credible danger. Foley said the board is "naïve to think this ordinance will stop or lesson the use of marijuana or any drug in our community."

Mark Moodry said marijuana in the hands of area youth is a law enforcement issue and agreed that it is not something the commissioners should deal with. He called the moratorium a "Band-Aid" and "unnecessary."

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But Palmer had votes in his favor.

Charlie O'Leary and Terry Schultz each backed Palmer's proposal. Both said they supported the medical marijuana law. They said it's important to make sure cardholders are able to receive marijuana, but they argued it is right to limit the number of providers in the county just as liquor licenses limit the number of bars.

Sheehy first submitted a counter-motion to deny the moratorium, but that faltered by a 6-4 vote.

Moments later the council voted by the same margin to place Palmer's motion on the books. Commissioners Foley, Moodry and Sheehy and Glen Granger voted no. Voting yes were Schultz, O'Leary, Palmer, Joe Lee, Terry Schultz, Charlie O'Leary, Ristene Hall and Cindi Shaw. Absent were John Morgan and Wally Frasz.

Numerous supporters of medical marijuana were in the audience, but the public did not have a chance to speak on the issue because it was labeled as council business. They, like the commissioners, initially thought the proposal had passed.

As for Palmer, he said denying the immediacy of the measure takes some of the bite out of his proposal. He said he will have to consider if he will bring forth another emergency moratorium next council meeting and try to win the necessary votes, or have the proposal move through the council's committees and go before public comment.

Reporter Tim Trainor may be reached via e-mail at tim.trainor@lee.net or call 496-5519.

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