Just say no?

Council does not pass prohibition for recreational marijuana establishments

Nate Heffron, city manager, city of Negaunee

NEGAUNEE — A split vote of the Negaunee City Council means the city has left the door open for marijuana establishments.

Three councilmembers voted to approve a proposed ordinance prohibiting marijuana establishments, while three councilors voted against the measure on Thursday. Councilor Paul Maino was absent from the meeting.

Because the motion related to a proposed ordinance, City Manager Nate Heffron said a majority vote is required to adopt it.

“You have one council member missing,” Heffron said. “It was a tie vote, and in the case of a tie vote the ordinance cannot be passed.”

The ordinance, written in response to the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act — which passed by popular vote in the Nov. 6 election — would have completely prohibited the sale of recreational marijuana within the boundaries of the city.

Michigan voters approved the recreational marijuana ballot proposal 56-44 percent, allowing state residents who are at least 21 to use, possess, grow up to 12 plants and buy marijuana for recreational use. It gives the Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs department until Dec. 6 to come up with regulations for recreational marijuana establishments, according to the LARA website.

Councilor Don Gladwell said that while he does not agree with the use of marijuana he continues to be “on the fence” about whether the city should prohibit marijuana establishments.

“I am very leery that the state is going to get this done by the end of 2019 and I really don’t want to circumvent the will of the voters. I voted against it, but they voted it in,” Gladwell said. “I don’t want to stop any business coming in. I don’t want to see them, like our storage sheds, popping up all over the place, (but) I think we can regulate that through an ordinance. I guess, what would the harm be if we were to take the lead on this as one of the small municipalities in the state of Michigan and try to do this on our own and help the state? Because we know more about our communities than those guys downstate, that I can tell you.”

Jason Wallner, one of the three councilors who voted in favor of prohibition, said the ordinance would protect the city as they wait for the state to come up with regulations for the sale of marijuana according to the act.

“The reason that I am for this is we are not trying to circumvent what the voters said,” Wallner said. “This is what they want. It’s the will of the people … We are not prohibiting private use. It’s just a matter of taking caution, taking time … we can repeal this once the state gives us some guidelines and repeal it. Right now I think it’s more cautionary than anything to be able to do this.”

City Attorney Ray Odea agreed that the prohibition ordinance would not circumvent the will of Michigan voters.

“You know there is a lot of misconceptions, I think, running through the public that by us doing this we are somehow trying to supersede what the voters did back in November and that is not the case, OK? This new act gives the state one year to establish the licensing regulations for these kinds of facilities. Starting with do you need locks, what is your security like, what is your testing like, how are you going to run people through your facility, how much can they buy, how does the tax money get accounted for. That’s what the state is supposed be putting together. Similar to what they do for liquor establishments. But, I mean, those rules have been in place for a long time,” Odea said.

Heffron said the Negaunee Planning Commission had already taken up the issue in an effort to determine zoning for marijuana establishments in an effort to be proactive in advance of state regulations.

“We do have an additional ordinance that is within the planning commission’s hands right now, and they will be looking at that to determine where these establishments can be established with in the community since it is a zoning regulation process that we have to go through,” Heffron said. “Other than that, we are really going to have to look into other areas … communities in other states, since I don’t believe that there are any in the state of Michigan that have adopted anything, but we will have to see where this leads us and come back to the council and kind of figure out what direction they want to go in. Overall, I do feel that the state will come up with some type of process. They are going to want to get into this sooner than later, so overall, by the time we come up with our ordinance, they may have something in process.”