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Marijuana dispensary issue on November ballot

By Lisa Brody


A ballot ordinance amendment to change the Birmingham prohibition against marijuana sales in the city for the November election was unanimously approved by Birmingham city commissioners at their meeting on Monday, July 25, which if approved by voters would amend the current ordinance to permit one medical marijuana facility and one recreational marijuana establishment in specifically zoned areas of the city.


Mary Kucharek, city attorney, noted that medical marihuana is now legal in 39 states, and recreational marihuana is legal in 21 states, with the use of both medical and recreational marihuana is legal in Michigan for those over the age of 21.


In 2018, the city of Birmingham passed a law prohibiting opting-in for marijuana establishments. However, she noted, several local communities have changed, or been forced to change by lawsuits, their ordinances opting our of cannabis sales.


The commission held a workshop in February to examine changing the ordinance as well as looking at amending the ordinance at a meeting in April.


“If a city opts in by passing an ordinance, it may regulate both marihuana facilities and marihuana establishments through a regulatory ordinance alone or through a zoning ordinance amendment. A regulatory ordinance can regulate the number of establishments permitted, the type of establishments permitted, where establishments are permitted and the process for allocating limited number of licenses. With the allocation of medical marihuana facility licenses, the statute does not define the licensing process. For medical marihuana facilities it can be first come, first serve, lottery, or a scoring system. With adult use recreational marihuana establishments, the city must use a competitive process (i.e., a scoring system), if the ordinance provides a numerical limitation on licenses. The benefits to a city opting in is that the city could have reasonable control over ordinance language and any amendments, as well as control over marihuana regulations within its borders. It would give a city time to process and adjust to changes on its own terms and regulations,” Kucharek wrote in the commission packet.


In 2018, Kucharek said, Birmingham voters favored the proposal to legalize marihuana in Michigan, 7,296 to 4,721, according to results posted on the Oakland County Clerk’s website. “However, that does not mean they would want it in their community,” she said.


Kucharek said that instead of making a decision for residents, in the form of an ordinance amendment presented to commissioners, “the city manager, staff and myself are recommending to turn it over to the residents in the form of a ballot proposal. The city has reviewed the laws, the commission has reviewed the pros and cons and where the ordinance would allow these establishments. If you approve the ballot language, the city clerk could be required to transmit it to the county clerk.”


The ordinance amendment would permit one medical marijuana facility and one recreational marijuana establishment in three potential zoning areas: at the southeast corner of Maple and Cranbrook; in the Triangle District, off Woodward, south of Maple and east of Adams but inclusive of Adams Square; and in part of the Rail District. All areas would be contingent on future zoning, permitting, a special land use permit and land owner consent.


Mayor Therese Longe asked what the risks to the city if they take no action.


Kucharek explained that “anyone can start a petition to allow establishments to allow establishments in the community – and the city would lose all autonomy and control, with only a small number of signatures. An outside agency can come in with paid signers. A citizen can also do an initiatory petition to ban marijuana from the city – we cannot – with only a small number of signatures.


“At least with this ordinance, I believe we give ourselves the best shot, and we've compared ourselves to other cities, but a citizen could still come in with another petition and then voters would have to choose,” she said. “We don't advocate one way or another. An outside agency can advocate and campaign. By putting this on the ballot we are letting all our residents advise us on this issue.”


Commissioners unanimously approved putting the ordinance amending the prohibition of marijuana sales on the November ballot.


The ballot language reads:


“Shall the Birmingham City Code ordinance, Chapter 26 – Businesses, Article XII, which currently prohibits the sale of marihuana in the City of Birmingham, be amended to authorize and allow one (1) medical marihuana facility and one (1) marihuana recreational establishment to operate in the City of Birmingham? Yes or No.”

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