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Escanaba council looks at future of marijuana in city

ESCANABA — Despite having a lengthy buffer before a sunset clause in the current marijuana ordinance takes effect, the Escanaba City Council weighed addressing the future of recreational marijuana sales in the city sooner rather than later during its meeting Thursday.

The city’s current marijuana ordinance opts the city out of recreational sales until Sept. 19, 2020 — 547 days after the ordinance officially took effect on March 22, 2019. The ordinance and sunset clause, which were drafted by council member Ralph Blasier, are designed to keep the city out of recreational sales long enough for the state to develop its own rules for the commercial sale of the formerly-illegal drug.

Initially, the state planned to roll out its rules by Dec. 6, but on July 3 the Marijuana Regulatory Agency issued emergency administrative rules for implementing the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. The new rules are in effect until Jan. 3, 2020 and allow the state to begin taking business applications for a variety of retail and growing license types starting Nov. 1.

While there was some confusion over the exact date the sunset clause would take effect — the discussion revolved around a date sometime in April of 2020 — the primary concern for some on the council was the ambiguity of the emergency rules.

“What I would like to know is — before we accidentally opt in, in April without knowing it — is can we pick and choose from that menu? I mean, maybe we want a grower size A, and maybe we want a marijuana bar, and maybe we want a small retail, but we don’t want growers B, C, and ‘Excess’ and the other licenses. And we don’t know that. They can’t tell us that. They won’t tell us that because they are afraid that if they answer the question they are acting as our attorneys, and they don’t want to do that, and I understand that,” said Blasier.

Mayor Marc Tall had similar concerns.

“It wasn’t as inclusive in information as I was looking for,” said Tall. “I was looking for more instruction from the state on what they would allow and what they wouldn’t, and I think some of that may have to come from the examples from other communities where it would be allowed and lawsuits may happen and rules will be rewritten as a result of these lawsuits.”

Because Blasier believed the sunset clause could set the city up to have unwanted retail and commercial grow operations, he made a motion to direct staff to remove the sunset clause he had initially pushed for from the existing ordinance. However, the motion met resistance from council members Ron Beauchamp and Mike Sattem, who felt it was too early to remove the clause and that doing so would hinder the work of the planning commission. The commission has been working to develop an ordinance to regulate marijuana establishments since February, prior to the approval of the city’s opt-out ordinance.

“What I was thinking (when directing the planning commission) was, at some point in the future, with a future council or if the residents of the community do a petition drive to do a referendum on this — which they can do at any time — put it on the ballot, it passes… we need the zoning in place so we have some control over where these places are going to be located,” said City Manager Patrick Jordan.

Beauchamp and Sattem both expressed their belief the issue should be brought up at a later date.

“Why does it need to be lifted now when the planning commission is still doing their thing; taking their time about it, too, and doing a thorough job, which they are?” asked Beauchamp.

Ultimately, the issue of removing the clause failed in a split vote of the council. Tall and Blasier voted in favor of removing the clause, while Sattem and Beauchamp voted to leave the language in the ordinance. Council member Peggy O’Connell abstained from the vote, which, because it is not a “yes” vote, acts as a “no” for the purposes of determining whether or not a motion passes.

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