City Council discusses new recreational marijuana city ordinances

Monday, September 23, 2019 - 10:24pm

Planning Manager Brett Lenart shares the legalization of marijuanaa at a special City Council work session Monday night.

Planning Manager Brett Lenart shares the legalization of marijuanaa at a special City Council work session Monday night. Buy this photo
Ryan McLoughlin/Daily

Ann Arbor city officials discussed two ordinances that would expand the number of recreational marijuana facilities in the city in a special City Council work session Monday night. Approximately 25 citizens attended the session.

At last week’s meeting, councilmembers gave initial approval to the ordinances that would allow temporary permits for events with onsite marijuana sale and consumption. They are expected to be approved in October, right before the state will begin accepting applications for recreational marijuana licenses from businesses on Nov. 1.

The work session began with a presentation on the new ordinances. Planning Manager Brett Lenart explained recent legal history regarding the legalization of marijuana, including the 2008 Michigan Medical Marijuana Act and the 2018 Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act.

“The city obviously has a more unique history with marijuana than a lot of other communities, both in the state of Michigan and throughout the country,” Lenart said. “A history of involvement in Hash Bash, activist groups who were pretty agressive in some eyes at the time, municipal regulation for governing marijuana in the community. And more recently, that history has evolved from a series of legal statutes and acts.” 

Lenart explained the proposed land use regulations for recreational marijuana. He said many of the recommended changes included removing “medical” from previously established terms. 

Additionally, Lenart addressed the amendment to implement a designated marijuana consumption facility, where adults 21 and older would be able to both buy and consume marijuana inside the place of purchase. These facilities would be allowed in commercial districts and have to be located 1,000 feet from schools.

Lenart also discussed the creation of marijuana retailers and marijuana microbusinesses. A limit of 28 of each facility would be allowed in Ann Arbor, adding up to a total of 84 recreational marijuana retailers that would each cost $5,000.

A 10 percent renewable energy requirement would also be required in each facility. Lenart said this requirement would help alleviate the energy demand recreational marijuana businesses often require.

“A lot of communities that are further ahead in the revolution of marijuana law and business facilities have had significant challenges with energy consumption and demand,” Lenart said. “We believe that this is a reasonable step towards trying to mitigate some of those factors.”

Following Lenart, Kristen Larcom, senior assistant aity attorney, explained amendments to permit ordinances to council members. Larcom said the city plans to enact very minimal changes.

“What we have tried to do is make as few changes as we need to and just incorporate adult use marijuana into the framework we already have for medical marijuana,” Larcom said.

Deputy City Attorney Kevin McDonald then covered the permit application process. He said the city would choose applications for recreational marijuana businesses that would be in best compliance with the state’s laws. 

“If the state received more applications than the city is allowing, it really turns to the city to make the decision as to which applications it is supposed to actually issue,” McDonald said. “It’s supposed to be a somewhat objective procedure so that we can very quickly come up with the applications that should rise to the top of the pack.”

Applications will be scored on four 25-point categories: past performance and experience in the community, business plan and state compliance, location and community interest. Those that score best on this grading scale will be granted permits until the threshold is met.

Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, expressed concern regarding the new ordinances. She said she felt the process to approve permits is being rushed to come into effect at the same time the state begins to accept applications for commercial recreational marijuana facilities Nov. 1.

“This is a really big deal,” Lumm said. “Recreational marijuana is obviously coming, and we’re setting regulations that determine how many facilities there can be, where they can be located, how they can operate.”

Lumm advised studying what Boulder, Colo., and other similar communities have done to monitor marijuana, such as creating a marijuana advisory board. She said she will be asking for a temporary opt-out when the ordinance comes around for a second reading.

“We work for the residents, and I’m concerned about the real impacts on them and our community,” Lumm said. “I’m more concerned about that then perceived messages.”

Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, said he takes a different position on the ordinances than Lumm. He said he believes the council is listening to community members and approving the ordinances will be an economic benefit to Ann Arbor.

“This is something that has been talked about in our community, in our state and in our country for a very long time,” Ramlawi said. “I think we are doing our diligence.”

The council members also discussed concerns with regulations on smoking marijuana outside. Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, questioned the current laws in place regarding smoking marijuana outside, and Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, asked about how this regulation would be implemented.

Hayner also supported the idea of a marijuana advisory board. As a member of the liquor advisory committee, he said a similar board for recreational marijuana businesses would be a great aspect to add to the ordinances. 

“I think it is entirely appropriate to have (a marijuana advisory board),” Hayner said. “I think it would give us an opportunity to create a place for outreach with these businesses that we’re allowing to potentially flourish here in the city.”

Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, said she was an aggressive supporter for legalizing recreational marijuana and would address the current opioid addiction crisis.

“When you use painkillers such as opioids and then you become addicted, your doctor is not going to give you any more (painkillers),” Griswold said. “If we can provide an alternative such as marijuana … then possibly, we can impact this crisis that we have with opioid use.”

During the public comments section, Ann Arbor resident Hugo J. Mack, candidate for Washtenaw County prosecuting attorney, brought additional concerns to the council members regarding public education of marijuana use.

“I’m also concerned about the public education piece because I really don’t want citizens to be misled to thinking that it’s just an open area, an open field, an open opportunity, because I will enforce the law,” Mack said. “I’m reaching out to City Council to be sure we have public education under this (ordinance) also.”

Ann Arbor resident Diane Gianola said she thought the creation of marijuana consumption centers would cause an increase of driving while under the influence of marijuana. She requested that the consumption centers not have patron parking so the facilities do not encourage driving while being high.

“These consumption centers are a danger to the safety of all of us on the roads,” Gianola said. “Every customer that visits a marijuana consumption center will leave high or buzzed and will likely to get into a car to drive home or around town. All patrons who leave these establishments high and drive are a direct safety risk to the rest of the residents of the city.”