The city of Houghton will consider a wait-and-see approach when it comes to allowing recreational marijuana businesses within the city limits.
Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved the legalization of the use, possession, and growing of recreational marijuana in November, but individual municipalities can decide to opt-out of allowing businesses to sell the product.
Houghton City Manager Eric Waara informed the city council on Wednesday that he intends to present an opt-out ordinance at the January 23rd council meeting, written with help from the city’s attorney that will effectively put a moratorium on recreational marijuana businesses in Houghton until the state irons out all the necessary regulations associated with the new industry.
The state is expected to take up to a year before the legislature addresses the multitude of questions that will arise when it comes to actually implementing the law and finalizes the regulations regarding taxation and the redistribution of those funds.
Waara said he wants the city to be able to pass what he called a “good ordinance” once that information is available. “We don’t want to draft legislation quickly. I think we all have had conversations about quickly drafting legislation at the state level and we don’t want to do it here if we don’t have to,” Waara said.
He added that the city doesn’t want to get caught not having an ordinance on the books, either. Municipalities that do not opt-out automatically fall under the state law allowing recreational businesses by next year, which could lead to problems if the rules change repeatedly over the next several months.
The city of Houghton was proactive a decade ago ahead of the medical marijuana law and Waara said Houghton is home to the only licensed marijuana facility in the Upper Peninsula.
Houghton Police Chief John Donnelly spoke in favor of the city taking its time to make sure the rules are in place to avoid problems. “I think we kind of jumped the gun then (in 2008),” Donnelly said. “In recent years, we haven’t had a lot of problems but there have been years where we knew of illegal activity going in there and we would go in there and present that to the county prosecutor and the prosecutor would say that the city has an ordinance that says you allow that.” So even though the department knew there was illegal activity going on, Donnelly said the ordinance was used to stop them from pursuing it.
He reiterated that this is not currently an issue because the law was updated over the years to make it better. “Right now,” Donnelly continued, “I think anything that comes out (from the state legislature) is going to be subject to change on a regular basis every time there is a new court hearing.”
Waara said the state may spend the next couple of years in court fighting battles over the new law and he doesn’t want city taxpayers to have to pay to fight lawsuits over a local ordinance. “We simply don’t want to become the Wild West here and everything is going according to state law and it’s going to take time and we don’t want to draft an ordinance and redraft it and change it because there’s going to be a lot of things happening,” he said.
“Opting out does not affect people’s right to possess or to use the products in the city,” Waara said.
After Waara presents the ordinance at the next meeting, the city council is expected to schedule a public hearing before taking any action. The next city council meeting is at 5:30pm on January 23rd in the Houghton City Council Chambers.