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Options for marijuana ordinance considered

By Grace Lovins

At a workshop meeting on Monday, February 13, Birmingham city commissioners looked at potential options they could pursue if they were to adopt an ordinance allowing cannabis businesses within the city.

City attorney Marky Kucharek briefed the commission on Michigan’s medical and recreational marijuana laws that took effect between 2008 and 2018. In 2008, the use of medical marijuana was legalized in Michigan through the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, allowing permits for people to grow for their own use or for a patient.

A supplemental act to the 2008 law came in 2016 with the passing of the Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act. This act “filled the gaps” of the 2008 law and included the ability for commercial sales of medical marijuana. It also required marijuana establishments to be licensed by the state. Most recently, in 2018, the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (MRTMA) was approved by voters as Proposal 1, and took effect in December of 2019. MRTMA allows for the use and selling of recreational marijuana.

According to Kucharek, a point of concern is that Michigan state statute allows communities to opt out and not have cannabis facilities in the municipalities but also allows for people to petition have an ordinance to be placed on a ballot if it earns signatures from five percent of local voters in the last general election for governor.. To be adopted, the proposal itself would still require a majority of votes. If a citizen-initiated ordinance were to earn a majority of votes, commissioners would not be able to amend it or make determinations on the criteria for obtaining a license, Kucharek said, and the petition does not have to be initiated by a local citizen.

Kucharek noted that the goal with bringing this in front of the commission was to make them aware of the situation and recommended that the commission take control of the issue. Commissioners, in 2018, decided to pass a resolution “opting out” of creating an ordinance to allow for marijuana establishments within the city, she said, but that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of an ordinance being adopted if a citizen decides to petition.

In 2018, roughly 7,300 voters from Birmingham voted in favor of the MRTMA proposal while approximately 4,700 people voted against it, said Kucharek. In many other communities around the area – Royal Oak, Auburn Hills, Lake Orion, Brighton City – citizens have already initiated petitions for a marijuana ordinance.

“Part of the reason we brought this up is a bit of self-defense,” said city manager Tom Markus. “We wanted to make you aware that there is a serious possibility that an initiative could occur, and I think that is really an open democratic process rather than things normally running back through the commission in kind of a representative democracy.”

Explaining the benefits of the city deciding to opt-in, Kucharek noted that Birmingham would have control over the ordinance language, control over marijuana regulation in city borders, allow for any future amendments to the ordinance by the city, and give Birmingham time to adjust to changes on its own terms and conditions.

One stipulation with the commission deciding to opt-in is that even if the commission creates an ordinance to put on the ballot, a citizen would still be able to petition a ballot initiative with different criteria or language. For instance, if the city has a proposal for only allowing some type of cannabis businesses, like a testing facility or grow operation but not retail dispensaries, a citizen could still petition an initiative that allows for retail sales of cannabis.

“We’ve opted out – but that doesn’t protect us,” said Markus.

Because the session was a workshop, the commission did not take any formal action although there was discussion of possibly having an ordinance developed.


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