By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — The City Council took another step toward opting out of the entire recent voter-approved recreational marijuana use proposal by having the first reading of an ordinance prohibiting such businesses in the city during its Nov. 13 meeting.
Council President Susan Dabaja said all aspects of the proposal — recreational use, retail and residential — would be banned in the city.
She also said cities that choose to ban retail marijuana sales will not receive the tax proceeds collected from the sales nor collect the maximum annual fee of $5,000 per marijuana establishment.
“These proposed ordinances are being recommend as the city’s initial position on Proposal 1,” she said. “This is because of the ballot proposal’s unknown consequences, how regulations will be implemented and imposed and the impact of these regulations on our city and the residents.”
Dabaja also added that once the regulations are put in place by the state and there is more experience with implementation oversight of marijuana establishments, the city can revisit its initial position on the proposal.
Legalization of recreational marijuana was approved statewide in the Nov. 6 general election 2,344,450 to 1,849,005. In Dearborn the voters were split on the decision with 16,299 votes for legalization to 16,277 against.
According to Vote411.org, the marijuana legalization initiative is an “initiated law to authorize and legalize possession, use and cultivation of marijuana products by individuals who are at least 21 years of age and older, and commercial sales of marijuana through state-licensed retailers.”
The proposal would allow individuals 21 and older to purchase, possess and use marijuana and marijuana-infused edibles, and grow up to 12 marijuana plants for personal consumption; impose a 10-ounce limit for marijuana kept at home and require amounts over 2.5 ounces be secured in locked containers; create a state licensing system for marijuana businesses and allow municipalities to ban or restrict them; permit retail sales of marijuana and edibles subject to a 10 percent tax, dedicated to implementation costs, clinical trials, schools, roads, and municipalities where marijuana businesses are located; and change several current violations from crimes to civil infractions.
The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs will have about a year to review the ballot proposal terms and create rules before the recreational marijuana market is ready on a commercial level.
During the council meeting, Councilwoman Erin Byrnes said residents have reached out to her with questions and concerns that even through the proposal passed, the city is perhaps taking a draconian approach immediately following the election.
“We’re doing what we can in the best interest of the city to make sure that we’re fully aware of what the procedures are, once those are established and they haven’t been yet,” she said. “So there is a lot of work to do and a lot of information we’ll need from the state, that is just is not available to us yet.”
She also encouraged everyone on either side of the issue to be in touch with the city’s administration and council to let them know what their thoughts and feelings are.
Councilman David Bazzy said discussions internally to prepare for the outcome of the proposal have been happening for months.
“The time came when this passage became imminent and we had to be prepared,” he said. “Part of that preparation — I think is key — is that we also owe it to people who have vacant buildings and businesses and those that are trying to buy those buildings or businesses to let people know early on that our plan is to opt out.
“Given that may change, we do not want people going in and procuring a business or vacant building thinking they’re going to use it for growth or distribution in the community, only to find out after they purchase the building that the city does opt out afterwards.”
Councilman Michael Sareini said he believes that opting out now and possibly making an amendment to the ordinance is the best thing for the city to do.
“We are very fortunate in our city to have a significant tax base, our residents pay a tremendous amount of taxes so this is not a money issue,” he said. “I have many people say, ‘You’re going to gain all this money. You guys are losing.’ It’s not about money. This is about the best interest for our community and where we want our families to live.”
Councilwoman Leslie Herrick reminded people about the election results in Dearborn, stating that the difference between the proposal passing was separated by 22 votes.
Councilman Robert Abraham said introducing something as dramatic as marijuana into the business districts could have consequences beyond what the city anticipates.
“I think the most important word I heard came from Councilman Bazzy, the word ‘cautious,’” Abraham said. “I think I’d rather be cautious and slow or late to the party then rush, be first and have regrets later because there are many, many good things going on in all our business districts and I think as time goes on they’ll just continue to get better and better without adding this new factor.”
Councilman Brian O’Donell said he would much rather take a definitive action and let things sort themselves out on the state level first.
“We kind of see sometimes during rollouts it’s not always as smooth as one would anticipate, so in the meantime I think this is the right move,” he said. “Let the kinks get worked out, see where we’re at and take a more cautious approach. It makes the most sense to me and it’s not going to be a financial windfall.”
During the Nov. 8 committee of the whole meeting, the ordinance was tabled until the council’s Nov. 13 meeting for further discussion, and no other action was taken.
The city’s legal department was prepared for the vote by having the purposed marijuana ordinance ready for the council to opt out of marijuana establishments being located in Dearborn for now.
Dearborn Corporation Counsel Debra Walling said the proposal was for the council’s consideration until all the rules are put in place by the state and that the council could amend the ordinance if it chose to do so later on.
The council is scheduled to vote on the final reading of the marijuana ordinance during its Dec. 4 meeting at the Dearborn Administrative Center.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)