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Chocolay board OKs first marijuana ordinance reading

HARVEY — Marijuana-related businesses soon could be a part of the Chocolay Township landscape as they already are elsewhere.

The Chocolay Township Board on Monday accepted the first reading of a new marijuana establishments ordinance to regulate these businesses. The ordinance now moves to a second reading before the board can adopt it.

“The township has extensive history in rural living,” the ordinance reads, with its zoning history based on that “rich history” of agriculture, open space, the environment and natural beauty. “For those reasons, the township has elected to allow marijuana establishments in the following zoning districts based on the type of business and the character of the land use.”

Those zoning districts are agriculture/forestry, mixed-use overlay and industrial.

The ordinance would allow no more than two establishments in the mixed-use and industrial districts and no more than three in the agriculture/forestry district. The businesses would be established to be compliant with state requirements and local zoning district regulations.

Setbacks posed an issue, with township manager Bill DeGroot expressing concern if the businesses were larger than what is typically already allowed in zoning regulations.

“It’s an equity question at that point,” DeGroot said. “What makes this business significantly different than a tannery or conditional use of an asphalt-crushing thing or something like this that also may generate significantly different impacts?”

He also mentioned the township’s history of existing land uses as they abut residential properties.

“Having some of those setback issues unequal becomes even more of a concern — how to enforce, how to understand, how to interpret and why it’s different,” DeGroot said.

Allowed establishments in the agriculture/forestry district would be marijuana microbusinesses, growers, processors and safety-compliance facilities.

The mixed-use overlay district would allow marijuana microbusinesses as well as research and safety-compliance facilities.

Allowed establishments in the industrial district would be marijuana microbusinesses, growers, and research and safety-compliance facilities.

Additional requirements in the ordinance would be:

≤ Secure transportation of marijuana will be regulated by state licensing and not by the township.

≤ No marijuana establishments will be permitted without prior state licensing.

≤ All marijuana establishments must be a use permit, which will be subject to renovation with any breach of state laws and regulations.

≤ All permits granted to an establishment shall be effective only for 365 days from the date of township approval signature.

≤ All establishments will conform to the minimum setbacks and design requirements of state laws and the Chocolay Township site plan review process.

≤ All proposed establishments will not be allowed the operate without the following approvals: state of Michigan permit to operate, Chocolay Township site plan approval, Chocolay Township zoning compliance permit and Marquette County building authority approval to operate.

The ordinance also addressed violations and penalties, with a violation considered a municipal civil infraction that carries a fine of not less than $100 or more than $500 at the court’s discretion. Each day during which a violation continues would be deemed a separate offense, and the township may seek injunctive relief against persons or entities alleged to be in violation.

Board members expressed the views of some residents who did not want marijuana-related businesses in the township.

“I’m expressing for them,” Trustee Judy White said. “They don’t want to see it. They don’t think that we need it, but we’re all aware that eventually it’s coming anyway. I did explain to them that there wouldn’t be retail establishments, that there’s plenty of those already.”

Township resident Dr. Scott Emerson wrote an April 27 letter to the board in support of the ordinance.

“Overall, I think this is a great ordinance for our Chocolay Township as it places the emphasis on, and opens the door for, the broad regional sustainable business benefit of growing, processing and refining ‘value added’ cannabis products for medicinal as well as recreational use over the focus on just local retail sales shops as other townships have done,” Emerson wrote.

He said he believes the retail sales niche might be nearing saturation in the Marquette area, especially with individuals over age 21 now legally able to grow up to 12 plants for their personal use.

“There is no question now that marijuana has medical benefits for certain individuals and is much safer for those over 21 as a legalized substance than alcohol,” Emerson said. “And, the ‘stoned driving’ issue will very soon be enforceable with amazingly accurate technology developed to detect impairment using a handheld portable breath test.”

The next township board meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. June 14 at the Chocolay Township Hall.

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