By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – The City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to opt out of recreation marijuana establishments before the state of Michigan’s Nov. 1 deadline, during an Oct. 29 special meeting.
In the nearby cities of Allen Park and Lincoln Park, where the city councils opted out of recreational marijuana sales earlier this year, subsequent petition drives will put the question to residents on the Nov. 5 ballot, letting voters decide whether the cities will permit recreational marijuana business facilities.
By voting just days before the Nov. 1 state deadline to opt out, the Taylor council did not leave its residents with enough time to place the issue before voters on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Assistant city corporate council and municipal law specialist David Greco said Taylor already has passed an ordinance authorizing the sale of medical marijuana. He said the recreational marijuana act, which allows adult use, which state voters passed after the medical marijuana act, is unique, in that in Michigan, municipalities have to affirmatively opt out if they want to limit recreational marijuana facilities within their borders.
“That’s an affirmative act to deal with it,” Greco said. “It’s a little unique, with respect to most statutes, because most of them enable municipalities to do what they want to do, to get involved, not to do something to stay not involved.”
Greco said by opting out, the city council is affirming that it does not want recreational marijuana facilities within the city at this time.
“My understanding, from discussion, is that the city council is concerned about getting rushed into something,” Greco said. “What this does is simply put a pause on what the city and city council want to do. Once this ordinance is passed, it does not mean it is forever the law. It can certainly be repealed, if it wants to present a recreational marijuana ordinance at some time in the future.”
Greco said if city officials do not opt out, the city automatically opts in, which means potentially that recreational marijuana licenses could be granted in the city of Taylor, by the state, without an ordinance in place to govern and regulate it as city officials prefer.
He said that while the state has some “significant” regulations in place, and has control over who get licenses, the state has provided municipalities with the ability to govern, to a certain extent, in a manner which does not conflict with state law.
“If you want to put the brakes on this while you study it further, and consider what the ramifications for recreational are in the community, the way to go would be to pass an ordinance opting out, for now, then decide what you want to do later,” Greco said.
City Council Chair Tim Woolley said the city will allow, for medical marijuana, two dispensaries, three grow facilities, one transportation company and one testing facility.
“It is coming to this community,” Woolley said. “It’s just not here yet. We are in the final stages of an ordinance.”
Woolley said the recreational establishment opt out does not impact people’s ability to smoke marijuana recreationally.
“People can still grow it, people can still possess it,” Woolley said. “This only has to do with businesses – micro businesses – opening up in the city of Taylor.”
Greco said without the city’s opt out, there is the potential for recreational licenses to be issued, and to have facilities in the city without it being regulated in accordance with the wishes of the municipality.
Councilman Butch Ramik asked if it is possible that medical and recreational marijuana facilities could be combined in the future, and Greco said that in other places, once recreational marijuana is legalized, it tends to dominate the market, since prescriptions are no longer needed to obtain marijuana.
During the public comment period, some Taylor residents expressed their displeasure with the city council’s intention to opt out.
Taylor resident William McDonald said he felt the council opting out of recreational marijuana sales doesn’t coincide with the majority of the voters in the city who voted in favor of recreational marijuana.
“I do understand the sentiments and concerns about current regulations, but the (state) statute specifically says that every city and community can prohibit licenses all together, or limit the number of licenses,” McDonald said. “We as a city, if we opt in, do reserve the right to approve business licenses.”
Woolley said that the city council does not control business licenses, to which McDonald clarified that city officials have that ability.
“But it does specifically say that you are able to limit the number of licenses, or exclude licenses,” McDonald said.
Councilman Daniel Bzura said that is why the city council is taking the action it is to opt out, and disagreed with McDonald’s interpretation of the state law.
McDonald said that the city council is “killing small businesses” with its decision.
Resident Cindy Ciborowski said there are four bars near her home, and she is frustrated that the city council seems to be OK with that, but opposed to recreational marijuana dispensaries.
“Four bars in five blocks, and you have a problem with a marijuana business?” she said.
Councilman Charley Johnson said those bars have been there a long time, before the current city council took office.
“It is possible that every other business could be a marijuana facility,” Johnson said. “Do we want that? We have a chance to do an ordinance.”
Resident Ray Inman said he was told the city council was opting out of recreational marijuana businesses because they don’t know what the state is going to do with its regulation, but he took issue with that, and said the state has already published what it plans to do.
“You are killing small business,” Inman said. “This city cannot afford to keep losing small businesses.”
Resident Shannon Cotton said the city’s schools could use the tax revenues that recreational marijuana could generate.
“Our schools are going downhill,” Cotton said, who said that she has substitute taught in each of the city’s schools. “The tax money that we could get, the schools do need. Our children need it.”
Bzura said the recreational marijuana tax revenue is not going to be the financial boon that some think it might be.
“We are going to get a pretty small piece of that pie,” Bzura said. “So, if we want to do this, let’s do it, but I am not sure a financial windfall to help the city, to hire police, to help the schools, I am not buying that argument.”
Resident Karl Kliemann said that the city would get some revenue from recreational marijuana sales.
“Some is better than none,” Kliemann said. “Especially if it goes for the kids for schools. I would like to know when the council is going to take this up and try to get it passed.”
Johnson asked if the council would be will to start looking at drafting a recreational marijuana ordinance for the city.
Mayor Rick Sollars suggested that the existing committee, which made recommendations on the city’s medicinal marijuana business ordinance, reconvene and bring suggestions for a recreational marijuana ordinance back to the city council for consideration.
“We can certainly begin the process,” Sollars said. “The dialogue will take some time, but we can definitely convene the meetings to bring something back, for sure.”