City plows ahead with marijuana

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Grand Rapids officials recently struck down a proposed moratorium on recreational marijuana licensing.

The city commission placed two separate motions on the table related to the moratorium proposal and one to establish a date for the public hearing on the proposed zoning text amendments. All motions failed by vote, with Mayor Rosalynn Bliss absent.

The first failed motion would have delayed by six months the date to accept recreational marijuana applications and set a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana applications.

The second motion would have set a public hearing on the proposed zoning text amendments for medical marijuana.

The third motion would have delayed by six months the date to accept recreational marijuana applications and set a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana applications – except for those in the queue for future consideration by the planning commission.

The discussion to establish a moratorium followed consideration of setting a public hearing on proposed zoning text amendments recommended by the planning commission.

The city commission said it needed to examine the proposed changes to zoning ordinances centered on requirements, provisions and the review process for recreational and medical marijuana.

Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear said she felt it was important to request a moratorium because of various communications from business and religious organizations.

“I believe personally this is the worst policy that I’ve been a part of in the history of me serving as a public official,” Lenear said. “We owe it to the community and all the people who have provided feedback … to pause for a moment in order to do the work to make sure not only medical but also recreational are done in a way that yields us the results we were looking for.”

Those results included equitable outcomes for people in the city and more local presence of marijuana businesses, Lenear said.

A letter from pastors in the Third Ward to the city commission requested religious institutions remain listed as sensitive land uses in the city’s marijuana ordinance.

The pastors who co-wrote the letter expressed concern that eliminating religious institutions from the sensitive land use list would have the following consequences: 

  • There would be no requirement for dispensaries to engage nearby local churches, mosques, temples or synagogues.

  • Per state regulations, the city will not be able to inform neighbors or religious institutions that a dispensary is applying to move into the community unless it is within 300 feet of the location being proposed.

  • If the original intent was to regulate marijuana like alcohol, the change will ensure it is not.

First Ward Commissioner Jon O’Connor argued it was disingenuous to put a moratorium in place and not at least allow for public hearing to understand arguments, both for and against recreational marijuana.

“The protocol that’s in place for public hearings is we provide reasonable notice to people in our community so they can take time to come make their voices heard,” O’Connor said. “And yet we’re making a decision on this land use based on a group of people who’s come to this meeting without notice … and we’re going to delay and deprive others the opportunity.”

A resolution to schedule a public hearing for the proposed ordinance amendments was originally planned for the city commission’s Feb. 25 meeting, but the item was removed from the agenda following Lenear’s request for a moratorium.

Second Ward Commissioner Joseph Jones also supported a moratorium on licensing, but agreed with O’Connor it was problematic to propose such without the opportunity for public comment.

“I think this particular effort is not giving the opportunity, it is simply delaying the opportunity,” Jones said. “I think it goes without saying that the desire to put a moratorium in place is not signifying that we are trying to defy the law … it is simply an opportunity to take a good hard look at a process that perhaps some of us deem as flawed.”

Jones added he was not in favor of having applicants already in the queue with the planning department to be impacted by a moratorium. He argued they should be allowed to continue with the process and be removed from a proposed moratorium.

Background

The Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency released emergency rules in July 2019 to govern recreational marijuana businesses across Michigan, and included several new license types, such as Excess Grower, Designated Consumption Establishment, and Temporary Marijuana Event and Event Organizer.

The city commission adopted a licensing ordinance in October, beating a Nov. 1 deadline to have an ordinance in place to avoid a default opt-in status while lacking reasonable regulations on marijuana uses.

The proposed licensing ordinance would act as a formal opt-in action on recreational marijuana by the city but specified a six-month window to allow for topical research, and the development of zoning ordinance amendments and an application process.

In the licensing ordinance, a local license is required for every state medical or recreational marijuana license type. This approach, however, does not require that every land use associated with each license type be allowed within the city, just that a local license is required for those land uses that are allowed.

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