Communities need to talk about marijuana ‘as soon as possible’

Cities and townships are still making decisions on how to handle recreational marijuana, which has been legal for over 5 months.

CADILLAC — It’s been over five months since recreational marijuana was legalized and years since medical marijuana was legalized, and decisions are still being made how to handle it.

Michigan Municipal League Legislative Associate Jennifer Rigterink said legislatively the state is at the point of implementing the recreational adult use.

However, Michigan is waiting for the release of the rules from the Michigan Regulatory Agency, which implements new practices to streamline the application process and ensure access to safe marijuana products, according to an MRA press release.

The rules are expected any day within the next couple days or next couple weeks, so if communities are not having the conversation about recreational marijuana, “they need to start having that conversation as soon as possible," Rigterink said.

Where local cities and townships are at with marijuana

In Wexford, Missaukee and Osceola counties, some communities have had these discussions and made decisions.

How the law works is communities have to decide to opt out of allowing recreational marijuana facilities and opt into medical marijuana.

The following communities have opted out of recreational marijuana, according to a document compiled by Bureau of Marijuana Regulation staff:

• Missaukee County: Caldwell Township, Forest Township, Reeder Township

• Osceola County: Burdell Township, Evart, Hersey Township, Highland Township, Reed City, Richmond Township

• Wexford County: Clam Lake Township, Colfax Township, Springville Township, Wexford Township

When it comes to medical marijuana, only two entities in those counties have opted into allowing establishments, which are Evart and Richmond Township in Osceola County.

On June 17, Evart City Council passed an updated medical marijuana ordinance and will once again begin accepting applications for medical marijuana facilities.

In its drafted ordinance, all grower facilities, safety compliance facilities, processor facilities and secured transporter facilities would be limited to the industrial, I-2, zoned districts. There was an issue with that regulation not fitting the zoning ordinance that allows such facilities in commercial, C-2, zones.

City Manager Sarah Dvoracek said she switched it from allowing marijuana facilities in the commercial zones as she said she believed that was a public concern.

“At our last public hearing, I thought there was an issue with having the chemicals used in processing the marijuana in the commercial districts," she said.

Effective July 2, the city of Evart will allow no more than two grower facilities, processing facilities, transport facilities, safety compliance facilities and provisioning centers or micro businesses within the city.

Though the city has decided to pass this ordinance, the city has chosen to opt out of recreational marijuana and will not be touching the topic until December when more answers are provided on the state level, Dvoracek said.

Whether medical marijuana or recreational marijuana should be allowed was a matter of debate at Haring Township’s last planning commission meeting.

At a special meeting on June 5, the township’s planning commission voted to recommend the denial of a proposed ordinance amendment that would prohibit commercial marijuana establishments.

Haring Township’s Zoning Administrator Mike Green said the amendment would effectively ban commercial activities such as grow operations, dispensaries and provisioning centers.

Commissioner Sally Randall made the motion to recommend the denial of the proposed amendment but to alternatively suggest taking another look at medical marijuana options.

Medical marijuana is preferred, but due to the township board’s past actions it is not an option and medical marijuana was off the table. If medical marijuana is preferred but not available for people, they have to have something available locally, she said.

“So this puts it back on for those in need," she said.

As of June 17, Cadillac had not opted into medical marijuana or opted out of recreational marijuana, city attorney Mike Homier said.

Over in Missaukee County in January, McBain City Council unanimously voted to prohibit marijuana establishments.

Councilman Chuck Heethuis said that the argument against marijuana is because it is a law of vice and habit and can lead to the argument for other vices.

“On the moral issue we have to say no," he said.

However, the decision isn’t set in stone and cities like McBain can revisit the topic later and choose to allow recreational marijuana.

Where Michigan is at legislatively

Rigterink said municipalities can give themselves some wiggle room while writing ordinances to opt out now so they can revisit the issue later when they know what the rules will be.

This action can be a placeholder until they can make the right decision for the community and anyone who has opted out can reverse that at a future date.

This process often takes many ordinances and public meetings to approve it and can be a two to three-month process at minimum to get stuff done, Rigterink said.

A community might opt in if they see an economic reason for doing so. Do they have a spot in their industrial park that’s just been sitting there that it would make sense to put in a processor or grower?

Really it comes down to the cost associated with it, she said.

Will the revenue equal out? Will the revenue be positive or will they lose money on the business?

It depends on the community.

“These are the conversations going on locally," she said.

Support for marijuana in the community

Three people spoke positively for marijuana establishments in Haring Township at the planning commission meeting, including Cadillac resident Tony Rubio and township resident Don Koshmider.

Koshmider said the genie is out of the bottle, the toothpaste is squeezed out of the tube, there’s no going back, and he thinks it would behoove the township to opt-in, get ahead of the ball and regulate it.

Rubio said the whole marijuana thing is new to him and most of his life he has been anti-marijuana and didn’t see a place for it in society. But that’s changed.

“It is now legal," he said. “It is here. The scare is over now."

He also thought it would behoove Haring Township to accept marijuana commercially so it could diversify and grow.

“I want growth for Haring Township," he said. “I want growth for Cadillac. I want growth for Wexford County. And I think with diversity, it will bring more people in."

Safety concerns with marijuana

At the same meeting, Haring Township resident Glenn Verbrugge voiced some concerns about marijuana.

If marijuana establishments are allowed here, they’re saying it’s a harmless thing, especially to the youth, he said.

“It’s very harmful to the growing brain," he said.

Wexford County Prosecuting Attorney Jason Elmore sits on the Safe and Healthy Community Coalition and said the coalition recently heard from several school students.

“They told us that the No. 1 problem in our schools is access to marijuana and vaping," he said in an email.

He said they know teen use will increase, there will be an increase in use and health care costs and there will be impacts on roadways and in workplaces.

Nationally, an estimated 14.8 million drivers report getting behind the wheel within one hour after using marijuana in the past 30 days, according to a new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The impairing effects of marijuana are usually experienced within the first one to four hours after using the drug and marijuana users who drive high are up to twice as likely to be involved in a crash.

“Marijuana can significantly alter reaction times and impair a driver’s judgment. Yet, many drivers don’t consider marijuana-impaired driving as risky as other behaviors like driving drunk or talking on the phone while driving," said David Yang, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s executive director. “It is important for everyone to understand that driving after recently using marijuana can put themselves and others at risk."

AAA recommends all motorists avoid driving while impaired by marijuana or any other drug, including alcohol, to avoid arrest and keep the roads safe.

Drivers who get behind the wheel while impaired put themselves and others at risk.

“Law enforcement will continue to investigate and prosecute those who violate the law," Elmore said. “We will aggressively prosecute those who drive under its influence just as we do with alcohol. We will continue to aggressively prosecute those who are caught possessing it around our schools."

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