Michigan communities rebel against marijuana business

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
In this Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018, photo, a clerk reaches for a container of marijuana buds for a customer at Utopia Gardens, a medical marijuana dispensary, in Detroit. Michigan and North Dakota, where voters previously authorized medical marijuana, will decide now if the drug should be legal for any adult 21 and older. They would become the 10th and 11th states to legalize so-called recreational marijuana since 2012.

In the week since Michigan voters approved marijuana legalization, several communities have indicated they intend to ban commercial recreational marijuana facilities within their borders.

Monroe was one of the first to opt out when it passed its ordinance the day before Election Day. Metro Detroit communities such as Pinckney and Troy as well as the west Michigan city of Portage also have signaled they'll opt out of the recreational marijuana marketplace. 

But questions have arisen about how much time communities have to decide whether to allow or block pot businesses as the recreational marijuana law prepares to go into effect in early December.

Opponents of adult use marijuana say the number of communities deciding not to participate will be high, especially if Colorado is any indication. In the Rocky Mountain state, 75 percent of communities opted out of the commercial industry.

“It’s been a week at this point, and it is moving very fast,” said Scott Greenlee, president of Healthy and Productive Michigan.

Unlike the “opt-in” medical marijuana industry, communities wishing to avoid recreational marijuana shops must “opt out” by passing an ordinance or persuading voters to approve a ballot initiative signalling their unwillingness to participate in the marketplace. Should residents disagree with their local government’s ban or allowance, they can collect signatures to get the issue on the ballot during the “next regular election.”

Opponents and others have questioned what’s meant by the “next regular election.” Healthy and Productive Michigan argues the language indicates the next general election, which would be November 2020, after the state’s deadline for launching the regulatory and licensing framework for commercial sales.

The Michigan Municipal League suspects the definition of a "regular election" may hinge on the way it's defined in each community's charter.

That question and others make the initiative language “clear as mud,” said Jennifer Rigertink, legislative associate at the Michigan Municipal League. The league did not take a position on Proposal 1, she said, but is involved to the extent that the plan's implementation will affect communities.

“There’s definitely been a lot of questions and some of the answer is ‘Well, we think this is what it meant, but until it's litigated, we won’t know for sure,’” Rigertink said.

Supporters of the initiative deny that the language is cloudy, arguing the law passed Nov. 6 is better written, clearer and more certain than the 2008 law that legalized medical marijuana and resulted in years of lawsuits and court challenges.

“We’ve learned the lessons of the 2008 law; we’ve learned the lessons of all of the nine other states who have passed this law,” said Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol.

The initiative was written, Hovey said, so “no community is forced to have a business that they’re not comfortable with.”

Leaders should start discussing what they want for their communities and how those priorities match the way community members voted for or against Proposal 1, he said. If communities are going to opt out, Hovey said, it would be best that they do so before the state begins issuing licenses within a year.

“Prop 1 forces communities to specifically take action and determine whether they want these businesses or not,” Hovey said.

Pot business restrictions

While local ordinances can ban commercial marijuana businesses, they also can allow them with some restrictions that are not “unreasonably impracticable” or conflict with the law.  

Some options include requiring businesses to obtain local licenses in addition to a state license, restrictions on public signage, limits on the hours and locations of businesses, or a fee of up to $5,000 for administrative costs. Communities cannot ban marijuana transportation through the municipality.

MMMP Services is among Lansing’s medical marijuana dispensaries.

The state is asking communities that opt out from commercial sales to notify the state to speed up the process when an applicant seeks a license in that area, said David Harns, a spokesman for the state Licensing and Regulatory Affairs agency.

So far, the state has received four notifications: one from Monroe and three from communities in rural Sanilac County in Michigan’s Thumb.

Regardless of whether a community notifies the state of its opt-out ordinance, “we are required to notify a municipality of an application from a facility” within its boundaries, Harns said.

Currently, 108 of more than 1,700 communities in Michigan have opted into the medical marijuana industry, Harns said.  

Towns mull decision

Monroe was one of the first communities to act, but the door isn't closed on future participation in the recreational marijuana marketplace, City Manager Vince Pastue said. 

"We just thought it would be easier to opt out for the time being until we had more information," Pastue said. 

In the Livingston County village of Pinckney, leaders voted Monday to opt out of the commercial adult use marijuana market after hearing from the community’s attorney, Clerk Amy Salowitz said.

“The conversation was: It’s better to opt out now while the whole process is being created by the state and you can always opt in to portions later,” Salowitz said.

The Troy City Council on Monday passed a resolution directing the city administration to draft an ordinance to opt out of the recreational marijuana industry, in part because Troy voters opposed the proposal at the ballot box 19,508 to 18,528. The city also opposed participation in the medical marijuana industry. 

"We don’t need to be the first in line," Troy councilman David Hamilton said. "We don’t need to be the guinea pig that is the first one to do this.”

Some communities are still considering ordinances as they sift through varying interpretations of the language approved Nov. 6.

In communities that haven’t approved medical pot ordinances, police and county prosecutors have effectively treated it as an illegal narcotic.

In Northville Township, Public Safety Director Todd Mutchler is reviewing the potential increased cost to public safety and comparing it with the tax revenue the city could receive. The initiative allows 15 percent of the 10 percent excise tax on marijuana sales to go to communities with facilities located within their borders.

“We know the best decisions are well-informed decisions and we don’t want to preclude any information coming our way about it,” Mutchler said.

Plainfield Township attorney Jeff Sluggett recommended township trustees adopt an opt-out ordinance "as soon as possible" because it's uncertain when the state could begin receiving applications within the next 12 months. 

"Our ability to enforce and rely on an ordinance prohibiting marihuana establishments must be 'in effect' when the application is filed with the state of Michigan," Sluggett wrote in a Nov. 7 memo to trustees. 

Portage approved a first reading of an ordinance prohibiting marijuana businesses the night of the election, and plans to take a final vote Tuesday on the matter.

In Jackson on Tuesday, a proposal that would have allowed for both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana facilities failed on a split vote, said Aaron Dimick, a spokesman for Jackson.

Some council members voiced support because of the overwhelming majority of Jackson voters who voted in favor of Proposal 1. Others “wanted to be careful moving forward,” Dimick said.

“It failed at its first reading," he said, "meaning it will not be taken up again in its current form."


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