Retail cannabis in Marquette?

City commissioners grapple with issue

Mike Angeli, Marquette City Manager

MARQUETTE — The Marquette City Commission held a work session Monday to discuss the possibility of having commercial recreational marijuana establishments within city limits.

Over 20 Marquette-area residents attended the meeting, with those addressing the commission during public comment periods vastly in support of having such establishments in the city.

When the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act took effect Dec. 6, Michigan became the first state in the Midwest and 10th in the country to legalize the use and possession of recreational marijuana.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, or LARA, is responsible for establishing by 2020 a bureau to handle recreational marijuana regulations and licenses. However, the responsibilities will fall on individual municipalities if LARA is unsuccessful in the process.

“The one thing that’s a little bit troubling,” said City Attorney Ronald Keefe, “if the state doesn’t put in a regulatory framework within the year, naturally it defaults to the city to have their own.”

Ron Keefe, Marquette City Attorney

Keefe said there could be some conflict if the state established a set of rules after the city created its own.

“We’re kind of in the dark,” he said. “We have this new act, we know the state is going to establish some rules of how it’s going to work, what it means, and until we have those rules we don’t know what’s going to work.”

Several people talked about how having the establishments would benefit the city.

“Commercial marijuana is a multibillion dollar industry in this country today. Marijuana tourism is a big part of that,” said Marquette resident and lawyer Brian Bloch.

In regard to the product, Ryan Brandt, an adjunct teacher at Northern Michigan University, said dispensaries in the city would address safety concerns.

“One of the biggest things is safety issues and quality control of products,” Brandt said, adding that people who shop at dispensaries “know exactly what they’re getting.”

Others said recreational marijuana establishments would create jobs and tax revenue.

According to the state act, there would be a 10 percent excise tax on marijuana sales. However, $20 million would go toward research on the efficacy of marijuana in treating veterans and preventing veteran suicide for the first two years.

The unspent balance would be distributed to different entities, with 15 percent each going to municipalities and counties where a marijuana retail store is located, 35 percent to the School Aid Fund for K-12 education and 35 percent to the Michigan Transportation Fund for repair and maintenance of roads and bridges, Keefe said.

The city could also require establishments to pay an annual $5,000 application fee.

State Rep. Sara Cambensy, who attended the meeting to update the commission on the state’s current situation, said there isn’t a timeline for municipalities and townships to opt-in or out, but if officials don’t decide on anything, they’ll automatically be opted-in by November.

Sixty-two percent of the residents of the city of Marquette voted for recreational marijuana.

“Many people voted in favor of this,” said Commissioner Jenn Hill. “It’s an interesting time, we’re moving into a new realm and we’re going to take it step by step to figure out how to take it forward.”

Hill told the public to continually bring ideas and plans to the commission.

Mayor Pro Tem Sarah Reynolds asked why the city couldn’t be at the forefront of the issue.

“In the last five years in the city of Marquette alone, 75 percent of the city businesses that were opened were coffee and alcohol related. We have the potential to have some tax dollars here,” Reynolds said. “I know that we don’t know what’s happening, but we could know what’s happening. We could do something and I think it’s a little short-sighted of us … to just opt-out.”

Commissioner Paul Schloegel suggested that the city review what communities with recreational establishments incorporated in their areas.

“At the same time, I’m hesitant to say I want to open up anything,” he said.

City Manager Mike Angeli suggested that the city opts-out until LARA establishes guidelines.

“Until the state gets their act together, I honestly think our safest route would be to opt out with the provision that we opt in and discuss how we opt in once the state develops those laws,” Angeli said.

Commissioners Pete Frazier and Dave Campana agreed.

“I think we should wait until we get some rules and direction from the state of Michigan so we know which way to go,” Campana said. “The federal government still calls it (marijuana) a scheduled one drug. If the city of Marquette allows these shops to open, or if we’re more marijuana friendly than other places, if the city’s applying for a federal grant … they’re not getting the grant. Now that’s a stretch, but it’s a possibility.”

Commissioner Jenna Smith reminded the commission that it took the state eight years to create regulations and licenses for medical marijuana establishments once it became legal. She asked that a list of options be presented to the commission in the near future.

Mayor Fred Stonehouse believes Marquette will decide to opt-in at some point.

“I have no doubt that at some point of time, Marquette will opt-in. I have no doubt, and I think the only issue in question is when that occurs,” Stonehouse said. “I believe the issue that’s really going to be the problem is not having clear, definitive guidance from the state and I don’t know if we’re ever going to have that.”