ESCANABA — The Escanaba City Council took steps Thursday to pave the way for the retail sale of marijuana in the city.
Laura Genovich, an attorney with Foster Swift of Grand Rapids, virtually attended the meeting to give a presentation on the process needed for the city to implement its plan to allow commercial marijuana establishments. During the presentation, she outlined a number of issues the council must consider to have a smooth transition from being opted out of the state law allowing retail marijuana sales to being opted in.
“This is something I deal with quite a lot,” said Genovich, who noted she had previously worked with the cities of Mount Pleasant and Cadillac to develop their marijuana ordinances.
Currently, the city of Escanaba is opted out of the state law, but the council voted to change course and allow retail marijuana sales at the April 7 council meeting, pending the creation of the necessary ordinances and any administrative work. However, the city is in a unique position compared to other municipalities. Under the law, a community must pass an ordinance opting out of the law if it doesn’t want marijuana sales or grow operations within its borders. The city did that, but on the advice of the ordinance’s author, former City Council Member Ralph Blasier, the ordinance included a sunset clause, which would automatically repeal the ordinance and allow marijuana sales if the council did not readdress the issue once rules from the state became more clear cut.
Past councils had extended the ordinance, each time changing the date of the sunset clause, with the ordinance currently set to expire on Sept. 19 of this year. Because ordinances can only be repealed by the passage of a new ordinance, the April 7 vote essentially declared the council’s intent to opt in, but if no new ordinance is passed by the time the sunset is reached, the city will automatically be opted in to marijuana sales and grow operations with no set rules or regulations on how those businesses operate beyond the rules set by the state.
There are two separate ordinances the council can approve to regulate marijuana establishments, which can include a wide variety of marijuana-focused business from retail and grow operations to secured transporters or processors. The first is a regulatory ordinance that would establish things like how many marijuana businesses can exist in the city, how applications for businesses would be processed or how much the annual license from the city would cost. That ordinance only requires the approval of the city council.
The second ordinance, which is not technically necessary if the regulatory ordinance is in place, would be an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance. That ordinance would need to come from the planning commission before being approved by the council and would establish where marijuana establishments can be located.
“Since you have zoning, you also want to address it in your zoning ordinance,” said Genovich.
The law is relatively flexible in how the ordinances need to be structured, allowing for each community to have a large amount of say in how marijuana establishments are regulated within their borders. The city has also already spent a large amount of time thinking about what marijuana establishments could look like in the city. Prior to the April 7 vote, the city’s planning commission had already developed a draft zoning ordinance amendment to be considered if the current ordinance opting the city out of the law were to ever be repealed or expire.
Following Genovich’s presentation, the council voted to enter into a letter of engagement with Foster Swift for services related to marijuana sales. The council members also decided to review the zoning ordinance draft as well as a questionnaire supplied by Genovich and bring their ideas for marijuana regulation back to her by the next city council meeting so she can begin the ordinance creation process.
In other business, the council
– Held a public hearing and condemned a structure located at 1607 North 20th Street, which was partially burned after being struck by lightning last year and now appears to be abandoned.
– Approved a lease agreement with Delta County Central Dispatch for use of the Escanaba Public Safety Building. While there have been multiple conversations about moving the dispatch center to the new jail facility, the funds aren’t yet available according to Escanaba Police Chief Robert LaMarche, who said moving the equipment would cost between $400,000 and $500,000 dollars.
– Approved a traffic safety order to make the 100 block of North 16th Street one-way as part of a project to add a bus lane and reduce congestion at the Upper Elementary. The one-way designation will not take effect until the project is completed.
– Approved a traffic safety order to install two handicapped parking stalls on the west side of South 5th Street in the last two parking spots closest to Ludington Street.
– Set the date for two public hearings on possible condemnation. One is on a building located at 102 Stephenson Avenue, which has been deemed unsafe to occupy. The other is for the removal of a foundation left after the removal of a building at 630 1st Avenue South.
– Approved a contract for cross connection inspections for commercial water accounts and other services with HydroCorp of Troy, Mich. for a sum not to exceed $52,128.
– Approved entering into a contract with the Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Regional Commission (CUPPAD) for a David Bacon Act wage review for the city’s lead service line project. The review will not exceed $7,215 and is required by law.
– Entered into closed session to discuss a foreclosure sale on a property that owes the city money.