By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — The Council heard opinions and ideas from residents on whether to allow or prohibit recreational marijuana businesses in the city during a town hall meeting Dec. 11 at the Dearborn Administrative Center, 16901 Michigan Ave.
A vote on opting out of allowing those recreational marijuana establishments, such as retail growers, safety compliance facilities, processors, retailers, transporters and micro businesses in the city was scheduled to take place on Dec. 4, but the council wanted more input from residents.
Councilman Michael Sareini said the vote also was delayed because the council found out it wasn’t legally possible to opt out of a law that hasn’t been in effect. The use of recreational marijuana became legal in Michigan on Dec. 6 and the council is scheduled to vote on opting out during its next meeting on Dec. 18.
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 state law allows people 21 and older to purchase, possess and use marijuana and marijuana-infused edibles, and grow up to 12 marijuana plants for personal consumption; imposes a 10-ounce limit for marijuana kept at home and require amounts over 2.5 ounces be secured in locked containers; creates a state licensing system for marijuana businesses and allow municipalities to ban or restrict them; permits 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 changes several current violations from crimes to civil infractions.
Cities that also choose to opt out of the 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.
The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has about a year to review the ballot proposal terms and create rules before the recreational marijuana market is ready on a commercial level.
To begin the town hall meeting, Council President Susan Dabaja said each of the council members had been contacted by residents through email, phone, mail and even person regarding the marijuana ordinance.
“I want to be clear about something, there is no plan by this body of government to go against the intent of the law, which is to legalize marijuana,” she said. “What we’re trying to consider at this point is whether or not to opt out. That just means we do not allow certain marijuana establishments in the city of Dearborn and that’s what is being proposed right now.”
Corporation Counsel Debra Walling said the law allows cities to decide if marijuana establishments are allowed in their community, how many establishments and regulations for the establishments that cannot conflict with state rules which have yet to be developed.
“Our recommendation was to opt out, at least until we see what the state rules are going to be and how other communities are dealing with this,” she said. “The proposed ordinance the council is considering now has an 18-month sunset provision, which would be July of 2020, that it would end — the opt out would be over at that point and if the council took no further action prior to that time.”
Police Chief Ronald Haddad said that since the proposal was passed the Police Department has been conducting research on marijuana establishments, and that there is no consistency.
“There’s a lot of variables out there and what’s been a common theme is that in putting these places online the municipalities did not have the resources to ensure compliance with the most basic of rules,” he said. “My concern along that would be that we have good ordinances that are enforceable and that we have the resources to enforce.”
Haddad said over the past three years in Dearborn the department received 49 complaints from people about medical marijuana grow homes relating to night traffic or bad odors. He also said that five medical marijuana businesses remain open in the city.
Councilwoman Leslie Herrick said the council has appreciated everyone who has called, written or stopped a member in person to talk about the proposal.
“We know that there are very strong opinions and there are some people who it’s not much of an issue, too, but we’re trying to find a balance across our city,” she said. “All of you here are probably aware it was a pretty close vote if you look at just Dearborn’s vote on the state proposal it was only 22 votes different that it passed in here and that’s something we take into serious consideration.
Dearborn resident William George said that no matter how may votes it passed by, it still did pass in the city and that if the council decides to outlaw they are going against the will of the people.
“I also think there’s an opportunity from the business standpoint, might miss out on a lot of tax revenue from the state if we do opt out which I think is concerning,” he said. “I also do think we should be looking at the fact that there’s a chance new businesses will move in and that’s a great opportunity and chance for us to be at the forefront on determining what those ordinances are.”
Another resident, Ken Paris suggested the city create a citizen advisory board whether they decide to allow or prohibit the recreational marijuana establishments.
“What I’m talking about is a select group of people from our community, which could include medical, police, first responders, Property Maintenance and Development Services, somebody from our development corporation, representatives from the neighborhood associations — just citizens or professionals who can help with this decision.
He also added that the council should slow down a little bit because a decision on the ordinance was not something that needed to be made right away.
Resident Betsy Andreu said Dearborn has a fortune 500 company, a downtown that is being rebuilt and known as a city which is good for raising families.
“Do we really want to attract what pot brings or do we want to leave that to other cities?” she asked the council. “The city is going to go to pot if you guys allow dispensaries. It’s going to go to pot and it’s not going to be a city that is welcome to families, and crime is going to increase.”
Additional topics residents brought up during the two hour town hall included health effects of marijuana on youth, a usage increase of drugs, traffic and smells from facilities, zoning for facilities, law enforcement and tax revenue collection.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])