Port Huron officials are making some tweaks to adult-use marijuana rules before City Council members give two draft ordinances the final OK this month — in light of the conflicting proposal that’ll appear before voters on the ballot this fall.
Council is still expected to approve zoning and permitting ordinances allowing recreational marijuana businesses to operate in city limits at its Sept. 28 meeting.
But Al Francis, one of the city’s corporate attorneys, said they plan to update the zoning draft in time for its second public reading to additionally include zoning rules for medical marijuana establishments in case city voters approve a petition proposal in the Nov. 3 general election.
That ordinance — initially proposed as a petition but compelled to the ballot through court last week — proposes the city permit marijuana businesses under both the state’s medical and recreational statutes. It does not include any zoning rules itself.
Although the city’s permit ordinance, which only regulates recreational sites and not medical ones, would initiate an application period for adult-use businesses starting Oct. 1, the petition ordinance would take precedent if approved by voters.
Francis said they haven’t worked out what would happen if there are local permits granted in the month before the election, adding, “That’s something we would have to look at.”
The attorney said they would also recommend that council extend the city’s moratorium on recreational marijuana another few days to allow time for the permit and zoning ordinances to take effect.
The ban was originally set to end by July but was extended last spring to Sept. 30 to allow time for officials to work on the ordinances after the coronavirus shutdown.
Not every council member may be on board, but for different reasons
City Council members accepted the city’s marijuana drafts with four votes in favor after its first public reading at Monday’s meeting. Two readings are required before they’re adopted formally.
Councilman Ken Harris voted against the ordinances, Councilwoman Anita Ashford abstained and Councilman Scott Worden was absent.
“I just think it’s to the detriment of our police force. That’s my big issue. I expressed that to the police chief a long time ago,” Harris said.
Ashford said she thought officials “didn’t listen to the people,” citing the several hundred of summer survey respondents versus the size of the city’s population.
“Especially on something this huge, you’re changing the whole makeup of a city,” she said. In a follow-up email, she said her abstention was “due to my unsettledness with the integrity of the approach around” bringing marijuana to Port Huron.
“That is why I thought the ballot issue was a positive to ensure that the voices of the people spoke and not just a few who happen to be in leadership positions,” Ashford wrote.
More on interest for marijuana businesses — in and out of the city
With the city’s ongoing ordinance process, officials have said they thought the ballot proposal would be confusing for voters. In an interview Wednesday, Mayor Pauline Repp said she wasn’t sure some residents who signed the petition understood what it was for.
Resident Mary Williams, who spoke during public comment Monday, said she had signed that petition believing “if the city won’t do something, it’s time.”
However, she acknowledged now being aware of the city’s ordinances, including the permitting rules that reserve retail marijuana permits specifically for local residents. Some officials have said they feared the ballot ordinance would only better enable outside residents to fill all permits.
“I don’t want people to come from the outside and afford to get the business, and the people who have signed the petitions, wanting the marijuana, will not be able to afford to,” Williams said. “That’s my concern. … The people of Port Huron should own those licenses.”
Edward Santangelo, who owns Tranquility Fields marijuana facilities, and consultant Henry Yanez said they came to Port Huron Monday talk to officials about microbusinesses and what they believed were common misconceptions about the license type.
Although only developers who already hold a medical cannabis license with the state can open most recreational facilities, that doesn’t include microbusinesses under state law.
Port Huron officials have cited that overall limitation, because there are no current medical licensees in Port Huron, in reserving retail spots for local residents to ensure they, too, have opportunities. But Santangelo and Yanez said anyone could apply to open a microbusiness now.
“The reason for that is they’re looking for small entrepreneurs and community members to participate,” Santangelo said. “So, the whole microbusiness license is really designed to allow a local community member to really be able to get into the business and be able to operate a cannabis (facility).
“It’s more like a family business, much like a microbrewery because what you’re doing is growing, processing and selling. It’s a point of destination. But most people get confused by the grow aspect of it and they put them into an industrial area when they’re really retailers.”
Currently, the city’s zoning ordinance limits the one microbusiness permit to industrial areas and the permitting ordinance doesn’t reserve the option exclusively for local interest.
As is, other applicants wouldn’t be able to get state licenses until nearly 2022.
No decision has been made otherwise, but David Harns, spokesman for Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said the state’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency is considering moving that up a year.
During the summer, Port Huron officials said microbusiness may prove to be the most expensive license to pursue and may preclude some local developers from getting into that area of the cannabis market. Harns added Thursday it is a “complex license type,” and that only one in the state has been licensed so far.
Chris Aiello, a Warren-based attorney, said he represents clients who want to grow and develop retail in Port Huron. He also attended Monday’s meeting.
He said the challenge was that there weren’t enough industrial buildings available for the developers willing to buy. He said like areas across the state, there was still plenty of demand in St. Clair County for marijuana.
“I’d say you’re not a big metropolitan area, so it’s a market that has shelf space where there’s consumers. We’re no different than 7/Eleven, or Walmart or anyone. They’re all here for a reason, there’s a market.”
Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jackie20Smith.