Planning Commission rejects City Council's marijuana ban

Alexander Sinn • Mar 14, 2019 at 10:00 AM

The Grand Haven Planning Commission on Tuesday voted to deny the City Council’s recommended Zoning Ordinance ban on recreational marijuana facilities.

The 6-2 decision may only be symbolic, however, as the City Council does not require the Planning Commission’s recommendation to approve a change in the ordinance.

The council will consider the text amendment Monday. 

Six planning commissioners voiced agreement that the council’s decision in November 2018 to ban facilities was “short-sighted.”

Commission Chairwoman Erin Von Tom and Commissioner Mike Dora voted to adopt the council’s proposed ordinance, which would ban facilities outright as the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) crafts policies and regulations for the new industry. Until LARA establishes a bureaucracy, expected by 2020, recreational marijuana businesses cannot set up shop anywhere in the state.

After Michigan voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana in November 2018, the Grand Haven City Council acted swiftly to approve two ordinances — a city ban on facilities and a Zoning Ordinance text amendment to accompany the ban. City attorney Ron Bultje said municipalities across the state have been advised to adopt both ordinances, as the municipal law may not hold enough water on its own to prohibit pot businesses.

Planning Commissioner Ryan Cummins on Tuesday night questioned whether Grand Haven needs the ordinance. He said the city could adopt an ordinance once LARA completes its regulatory process, but noted that all city precincts in Grand Haven voted in support of last fall’s ballot initiative to legalize the industry. Cummins said adopting the ordinance could send “mixed messages.”

Commissioner Bill Ellingboe said recommending denial of the ban ordinance was “an opportunity to make our voice heard.”

Commissioner Mike Cramer added, “We haven’t thought it through. This is just a blanket prohibition.”

Commissioners said Grand Haven residents will be able to use, grow and transport the substances — but, with a city ban, would have to travel to other municipalities to purchase it. While surrounding municipalities and hundreds across the state have adopted or proposed bans, Grand Rapids is expected to allow facilities, and Crockery Township in December 2018 opted to hold off on an ordinance. 

Community Development Director Jennifer Howland said a marijuana facilities ban could act as a moratorium before the city decides where and how to allow the industry. She said the Planning Commission could pursue special use permits and other mechanisms to limit the industry’s footprint in Grand Haven, if city officials want to allow it at all.

Should LARA establish regulations and open the door for the new industry, Bultje said the city would not be able to kick out a marijuana business that had already been approved. 

“Whatever’s in place will be grandfathered and protected, and you will not be able to touch it,” he said.

The city does not allow medical marijuana facilities. Whereas municipalities had to “opt in” to allow medical pot businesses — growers, distributors, retail and other operations — local units must “opt out” of recreational facilities by adopting ordinances. Without an opt-out ban, marijuana businesses are treated with the same compliance standards as other industries in the city’s Zoning Ordinance. 

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