Medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed in Muskegon after the passage of an ordinance regulating the growth and sale of marijuana products within city limits.
The Muskegon City Commission approved the ordinance on Tuesday at the body’s regular meeting. It allows for growers and dispensaries to operate inside a specially zoned district off Seaway Drive.
The city will not put a cap on the number of licenses it approves, meaning that if space allows, an unlimited number of dispensaries would be able to operate in Muskegon. Other cities in Muskegon County which approved similar measures have opted to put stringent caps on approved licenses.
With the ordinance, the city has opted in to new state rules that allow medical marijuana plants and products to be grown, manufactured and sold at provisioning centers.
Tuesday’s vote only approved the operational aspect of the ordinance. Commissioners were still uncomfortable with several aspects of the zoning requirements recommended by the Planning Commission, as well as a few unorthodox stipulations in the application process proposed by city staff.
Despite those concerns, the ordinance was approved on a 4-3 margin. Mayor Stephen Gawron and commissioners Ken Johnson, Debra Warren and Dan Rinsema-Sybenga voted in favor of the ordinance.
Vice Mayor Eric Hood and commissioners Willie German, Jr. and Byron Turnquist voted against the measure.
Michigan’s Licensing and Regulatory Affairs department issued a new set of rules in early 2017 that allows municipalities to regulate medical marijuana on their own terms.
State lawmakers in 2016 passed legislation to legalize and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, but ultimately left the particulars up to the regulatory affairs office.
Johnson, who has been an ardent supporter of the ordinance and the medical marijuana industry as a whole, said the vote showed “progressive and compassionate leadership.”
“I think it’s important that we move forward and give clarity to those who are interested in setting up shop in our city, that they’ll have confidence in their investment and give confidence to patients to show we will serve their best interests,” Johnson said.
According to the ordinance, potential pot operations would be required to receive the city permit as well as a state operating license before opening their doors.
Application and inspection fees would then be assessed if a permit is approved. The city would also be able to charge facilities of any kind an annual fee of no more than $5,000 to “help defray the administrative and enforcement costs associated with operation of (facilities) … in (Muskegon),” according to the ordinance.
In addition, the ordinance allows for growing, testing, processing, secure transport and dispensary licenses to be stacked by a single license holder or entity.
Just because the city will not cap the number of licenses doesn’t mean they’ll approve everyone who applies, said City Manager Frank Peterson. Applicants would still need to be approved by the state’s Department of Regulatory Affairs Office even if they have the city’s blessing.
Gawron said he heard that of some 200 businesses who have already applied with LARA, only a handful have been approved.
A portion of the ordinance that was not approved deals with the special overlay district. The proposed district is located off Seaway Drive, starting at the corner of Glade Street and Hackley Avenue, ending north at Young Avenue and running east to Park Street.
Commissioners worried about not being able to expand the district or fine-tune the zoning requirements if that portion passed tonight.
John Schrier, the city’s attorney, said the body was well within their rights to approve zoning rules later and pass the operational piece now.
A staff proposal to include several “plans” that applicants would have to present was sharply rejected and tabled. Some of the plans include basic proposals dealing with security, facade improvements on renovated buildings and general upkeep.
The more controversial plans included stipulations about charitable giving and community outreach, which was met with some ire.
“I worry that if we do this here, where does it end?” Rinsema-Sybenga said. “We want them to obey the rules and be within the system we approve. This seems like a lot more than what we require for other businesses.”
Warren said that while she wanted to revisit the application process, some checks and balances to ensure equity were a priority for her.
“A lot of people in this industry make lots of money and then they leave,” she said. “I don’t mean they leave town, but they take their money to another community where they live. I hope we can explore some creative ways to address social equity in this industry.”
In opposition, German and Turnquist said they could not give their blessing to a system that seemed too loosely regulated. They also pointed to abused of medical marijuana cards and 18-year-old having neighborhood access to marijuana.
“Medical marijuana has its use and certainly helps patients, I just don’t think there are enough controls on how you get it,” Turnquist said. “With dispensing any type of medicine of that form, I’d like to see a system where you get a prescription from a doctor and have to go to the local drug store to get it.”
Johnson said that if commissioners chose to continue stalling, or vote against the ordinance, a group of residents would more than likely call for a referendum and take it to the ballot box.
If that happens, he said, the city would have zero control over where facilities are located or how many could spring up.
In response, Turnquist said “so be it.”
“I think we are doing a disservice to the whole community,” he said.
Within the last few weeks, both Muskegon Heights and Egelston Township voted to approve similar medical marijuana ordinances. While Egleston’s allows for up to two dispensaries, the Muskegon Heights ordinance only allows growth, processing and testing within city limits.