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Commercial pot sales in Esky may be delayed

ESCANABA — A looming sunset clause in Escanaba’s current marijuana ordinance could prompt a delay in the city allowing commercial marijuana establishments in the city.

During Thursday’s regular city council meeting, City Manager Patrick Jordan warned the council the current timeline for adopting the two necessary ordinances to allow commercial marijuana within the city could extend beyond the Sept. 15 sunset date in the city’s current ordinance, which opts the city out of state law allowing marijuana businesses. If the sunset date were reached without the new ordinances in place, marijuana businesses would be allowed to operate in the city automatically, but the city would have no say in the rules regulating the businesses or where they are located.

“The schedule we have right now, we wouldn’t have … any ordinance in effect because there’s a 10 day waiting period (after) publication of an ordinance. We would miss the sunset period by just a few days,” said Jordan.

The next step in the process to allow legal marijuana sales in the city is for the planning commission to hold a public hearing during a special meeting on Aug. 17. During that meeting, residents and other interested parties will have an opportunity to weigh in on a proposed map outlining where different types of commercial marijuana establishments can locate.

The map itself has been a contentious issue. All drafts of the map primarily regulate marijuana businesses by restricting different types of businesses to different zoning classifications. However, early drafts included 1,000-foot buffer zones around schools, commercial daycare centers, libraries and churches. That was cut back by the council, which directed the planning commission to create a map with only 500-foot buffers around schools. The planning commission then deviated from the direction it had been given by settling at a 750-foot buffer that its members felt was a compromise between the default 1,000 feet from schools set in the state law and the council recommendation.

Following the Aug. 17 public hearing at the planning commission meeting, the zoning ordinance and map would then head to the council. Unless the council decides to hold a special meeting on the issue — something Council Member Tyler DuBord suggested as a possibility — the council won’t be able to address the document until the Sept. 1 regular council meeting.

At that meeting, the council members will get to express their own opinions on the map and on the planning commission’s decision to deviate from the council’s direction.

While it is likely the majority of the council will find the compromise acceptable, Council Member Karen Moore has been a vocal opponent of the current map.

“I just can’t let this go, so of course, so I need to express my concerns once again about all this. And, as a council, we are being very irresponsible about an unknown. We have two capable lawyer … experts and we are ignoring their suggestions, we ignored two church requests, we ignored the state’s suggestion for distances away from schools; we are ignoring significant public safety concern,” Moore told the council Thursday.

DuBord, who has largely become the voice of the majority position to allow marijuana to be regulated primarily though the free market, disagreed.

“I appreciate your passion for this, Karen, on your end. I personally don’t feel that we’ve ignored our lawyers. I personally think that both Lisa (Vogler) and Laura (Genovich) have provided us with multiple options that we could use or take to opt in or move forward with the opt-in ordinance for the city. We’ve had discussion on this multiple times and we are looking to move forward with the planning commission,” said DuBord, who recommended Moore do more research on the positive outcomes of commercial marijuana legalization in other cities.

If the council decides the planning commission has acted in error, it can always send the ordinance and map back the the commission. Doing so, however, would delay the process of opting-in to allow commercial marijuana.

If the council does approve the ordinance, it may still struggle to make its deadline. Ordinances do not take effect until 10 days following publication in a newspaper in Michigan. While Jordan expressed it would be the city’s intent to get the notice published as quickly as possible, there would be little time, if any, between it taking effect and the Sept. 16 sunset.

To give the council more time, Jordan has drafted two additional ordinances for the council to consider at the Aug. 18 meet. One would extend the sunset date. The other would opt the city out of the state law allowing commercial marijuana entirely “until regulatory compliance ordinance and zoning is passed.”

The council will be able to choose between the two ordinances at the Aug. 18 meeting and hold the required first reading for their choice ordinance. They can also choose not to pursue either of the ordinances in favor of trying to beat the clock.

In other business the council

– approved an agreement with Wells Township to continue providing fire protection for the township.

– approved changes to the city’s solar land license and management agreement to change the 12-month settlement period to follow the calendar and not fiscal year. The changed contract, which may need to be signed by owners of the solar panels in the city’s solar farm, is designed to keep residents from losing credits during the peak solar months.

– approved a resolution of authorization for development so the recreation department could accept a $225,000 Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund grant to change the Webster wadding pool into a splash pad park.

– approved hiring Dixon Engineering & Inspection Services of Hales Corners, Wis. for three inspections for the city’s water towers. Two of the inspections, which will cover the inside and outside of the towers, will be paid for by the city and will cost $9,700. The city will be reimbursed for the third inspection, which is slated to cost $1,350, by cellular providers that have antennas on the towers.

– approved a resolution recognizing the Community Foundation for Delta County as a charitable organization. The resolution allows the foundation to apply for a charitable gaming license.

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