Planning Commission approves marijuana ordinancePosted by On

By TOM LAVENTURE

tlaventure@yourdailyglobe.com

Ironwood – An ordinance on the regulation of adult-use marijuana establishments cleared the Ironwood Planning Commission following a public hearing Thursday.

The commission’s 5-0 approval is a recommendation for the city commission to use the ordinance should it decide to allow adult-use marijuana establishments, said Tom Bergman, director of community development for the city of Ironwood. The planning commission recommendation was not an endorsement of the adult-use question for the city commission, he said.

The ordinance will be introduced to the city commission at its Feb. 24 meeting, Bergman said. The city commission will consider the “opt-in” question and if yes, the ordinance, at its March 9 or March 23 meetings.

If the commissioners do not opt-in, or do not approve the ordinance with an opt-in, the existing “opt-out” ordinance will need to be extended before the March 31 expiration deadline, he said.

“If they to opt-in then this is what the ordinance would look like,” said Sam Davey III, planning commission chair.

The city commission will have the ability to alter the ordinance, Bergman said. But any substantive change would bring it back to the planning commission for evaluation, a public hearing and recommendation.

The city commission decided to option-out of the adult-use choice in December 2018, he said. The city staff and planning commission were tasked to develop a draft ordinance to adopt in the event the city optioned to allow adult-use establishments in the future.

The six month period was not enough time for the ordinance task force to review ordinance, write the language appropriate for Ironwood, undergo legal review and make a recommendation, Bergman said. The sunset of the option-out ordinance was extended to March 31.

Robert Burchell, vice-chair, asked if the ordinance was vetted with the city’s comprehensive plan.

Bergman said the comprehensive plan was developed in 2014, which predates all recent marijuana laws except the 2008 caregiver law. The work to incorporate anything within the ordinance would be mindful of long term development of the downtown district, he said.

“I don’t believe there are conflicts,” Bergman said.

Buffer zones do not allow adult-use establishments within 100 feet of a core downtown area, church, school, public library, recovery center, or behavioral health therapist. The ordinance also limits the growing operations to within the industrial park as another example of compliance with the comprehensive plan, he said.

Burchell asked the position of Ironwood law enforcement.

Bergman said law enforcement was part of the task group and they had input on the ordinance. They also worked with the city attorney on enforcement language but did not make a recommendation in the task group or at the public hearings.

A group of around 25 residents attended Thursday’s hearing.

Opponents of adult-use establishments said the buffer zones will not be effective and felt that any financial benefit to the city would be offset by problems. Others feared that revenue from marijuana could be confiscated by the federal government.

The ordinance states that any type of license is $5,000. The state emergency rules show tax revenue uses a distribution formula that is based on the number of retail establishments in the municipality.

Advocates of adult-use establishments said the ordinance was solid. Some felt the ordinance was too conservative to allow just two marijuana retailer and two marijuana micro-business licenses and limited marijuana grower licenses.

Arlene Szot, an Ironwood resident, said adult-use contradicts the goals of developing downtown and attracting young families to Ironwood. Other opponents said that as a border town the adult-use establishments would make Ironwood a marijuana destination.

Advocates agreed that Ironwood would become a marijuana destination. They did not see that as a negative impact but as positive for economic development and tourism.

Bergman reminded the group that the ordinance does not allow for public consumption areas. The city commission will consider that as a separate item from the ordinance.

“Anyone can consume on their private property,” he said. “They can’t use anything in an area that is open to the public.”

A Bessemer resident questioned why the ordinance only allowed single-story buildings for adult-use establishments. It seemed to contradict the zoning effort to rehabilitate Ironwood‘s older buildings which are mostly two-story.

Chandra Moreno, who served on the ordinance task group, said that with the amount of lighting and energy used in growing operations it presented a potential fire hazard and that a second floor was often a residence.

Moreno said she was pleased with the ordinance. She responded to opponents of adult-use by encouraging them to talk with commercial growers. She said the Michigan laws and referendums are liberating but that marijuana remains stigmatized and people should understand how criminalization has damaged many lives.

Commissioner Mark Surprenant was not present at the meeting.

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