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  • Kevin Elliott

Cities opt out of recreational marijuana businesses

Rochester and Rochester Hills city councils on Monday, November 12, took steps to opt out of the state's recreational marijuana businesses that were approved by voters during this year's general election.

Rochester City Council on Monday, November 12, voted 6-1 to approve the second reading and adoption of an ordinance to prohibit marijuana businesses from being established in the city. Council approved a first reading on Monday, October 22, prior to the passage of Proposal 1, which will permit the use and possession of marijuana for recreational purposes, as well as the creation of related businesses, such as dispensaries and testing centers.

Rochester City Attorney Jeffrey Kragt said the new law, which will take effect once the election is certified, by the end of November or the first of December, requires municipalities that don't want marijuana related businesses to opt out by passage of an ordinance that prohibits them, while the previous medical marijuana laws only required municipalities to opt in.

Councilman Dean Bevacqua, who voted against passage of the ordinance, said “We are now in a situation where marijuana is legal and there are probably folks in the community and entrepreneurs who want to offer products services.

"We should be careful about drawing a line for whatever arbitrary reasons at this point," he said. "We have recreational consumption of alcohol. We have tobacco available throughout the downtown. I don't disagree that children should be protected, but we also don't want a situation of being a nanny state. We could protect against obesity by prohibiting ice cream downtown, but we don't because that's not reasonable."

Bevacqua said the Michigan Municipal League will be holding a presentation on the issue in the near future and he would like to attend prior to a final vote. However, council moved forward with a vote, opting to approve the ordinance.

Councilwoman Nancy Salvia said her initial impression, based on information she received from the Michigan Municipal League, is that it will be a long time before local municipalities receive any tax money from the operation of marijuana-related businesses in their communities.

Similarly, Rochester Hill City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that also would opt out of allowing marijuana-related businesses in the city. A second and final reading will be required at a future date.

The ordinance introduction passed by a vote of 5-0, with council members Mark Tisdel and Susan Bowyer absent.

Rochester Hills councilwoman Jenny McCardell voiced some concerns about approving the ordinance.

"I understand the fear that some may have about having marijuana establishments all over the place, and we don't want a city that's high all the time – nobody wants that," she said. "But, I want to study the issue and make the best decision. I fear we could lose out on some economic benefits."

Rochester Hills City Attorney John Staran said the city could at any time rescind the ordinance at a future date. However, without any ordinance, there wouldn't be any local governance of marijuana establishments. Rather, he said, if council wanted, it could study the issue, allow for zoning regulations and allow a full process to go through the planning commission at a later date.

"If adopted, it doesn't change anything," he said. "It's still legal to possess up to 2.5 ounces and for residents to be able to consume that on their property. It will prohibit any opening or state licensure of any business in the city of Rochester Hills, which would be consistent with the policy where we haven't allowed the establishment of medical marijuana businesses in Rochester Hills.

"The city could revisit it in the future, but given the law will go into effect in a few weeks, by adopting the prohibition now, it gives the city time to carefully and thoughtfully look at the issue and determine if, and to what extent, the city may decide in the future to allow marijuana establishments."

Councilman Ryan Deel agreed with the passage of the ordinance, saying he didn't think it was a good idea for the city to serve as a "test case" in the marijuana game.

Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett said he was pleased with Rochester Hills not being on the "bleeding edge" of the marijuana market. He said that other communities that are embracing the new law, such as Orion Township, look at it in large part as an economic development driver in areas that have had vacancy issues.

"That's not a problem we have here," Barnett said. "We have a one or two percent vacancy."

Further, he said he has seen mixed results in other states where recreational marijuana is legal, in terms of economic windfalls.

"I think council is acting responsibly," he said. "If someone wants to purchase the product, I'm sure there will be no more than a five mile drive to do so in another community."

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