A substantial majority of the voters in the City of Saline voted yes on the proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in State of Michigan, but the City of Saline, like many other Michigan municipalities, isn’t ready to allow it to be sold commercially in the community.
City attorney Roger Swets and Saline Police Chief Jerrod Hart spoke to city council at a work meeting at City Hall Monday evening. Swets had previously told council Michigan’s vote to legalize marijuana would present council with a couple of decisions. Should the city allow commercial marijuana businesses? And should the city allow public smoking in parks or on sidewalks?
Council spent most of its time talking about the first question Monday evening. In the end, the seven-person body was in what appeared to be unanimous agreement that the city should take a wait-and-see approach – even if, as attorney Swets noted, it was possible saying “no” to marijuana licensing at the outset might prohibit the city from changing its mind at a later date.
Members of council didn’t talk about whether or not they supported the ballot proposal. Nor did council debate the potential pros and cons of marijuana shops. Instead, council focused on all the unanswered questions.
“With so many ‘what if’ issues, it makes me very hesitant to get involved,” Councillor Janet Dillon said. “Once the dust settles, then council can revisit the idea if that’s something the city wanted.”
Dillon also chairs the city’s addiction task force.
Every member of council expressed a similar sentiment – to varying degrees.
Councillor Christen Mitchell said cities don’t like taking risks.
“I’d like to watch what is done elsewhere. I’m worried we may have increased public safety costs and I want to make sure our payout equals what we invest. That’s not clear to me right now,” Mitchell said.
Mayor Brian Marl said he voted against the proposal because in the midterm because it was inartfully drafted.
“However, I respect the sanctity of elections and we should respect the will of the voters even when they differ from our personal beliefs,” Marl said. But, Marl noted, the law is poorly written. He noted that Michigan legalized medical marijuana 10 years ago and, until recently, the implications for cities were unclear.
Attorney Swets explained many details are up in the air. It’s been reported that cities who allow commercial marijuana operations could be in line for revenue.
But how much?
Swets said it appears municipalities can charge as much as $5,000 a year in licensing. What was less clear is how much the city would receive from the 10 percent excise tax. According to Swets, revenue projections have come up short in every state that has legalized it recreational marijuana. In addition, the law requires $20 million a year to go to studies on post traumatic stress disorder and depression among US veterans. Cities are supposed to get 15 percent of the fund. But if revenue is less than expected and if $20 million off the top goes to veterans, what will that 15 percent amount to?
How much will it cost the city? Nobody knows that either. But Police Chief Jerrod Hart said he expects it will make more work for his 13-person police force.
“Looking at it from the 30,000-foot view, things are going to be a little busier in my business. The data in Colorado shows that,” Hart said. He added that drug cartels have pushed into Colorado to take advantage of the situation.
Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, Hart noted, so federal law enforcement could move in and raid a business. Previously, Hart expressed to council his concerns about marijuana businesses being a target for thieves or perhaps armed robbers. Since federal statutes prohibit banks from doing businesses with marijuana businesses, these businesses tend to be “cash-rich,” and make inviting targets to criminal elements, Hart said.
With medical marijuana dispensaries, cities could prevent their activity by simply doing nothing. But the laws for recreational marijuana are different. Cities must pass an ordinance to opt out, Swets said.
If the city ever did decide to allow recreational marijuana businesses, it would require the city to start a “complicated process” of deciding what kind of ordinances it wanted to develop. Should it allow grow operations? Retail operations? How should they be regulated?
Even without commercial concerns, the city has decisions to make.
“Do you outlaw for people under 21? Do you have something in the code about processing the plants for oils, which can be a dangerous process,” Swets said.
Another issue is public consumption.
According to countless articles published before the referendum, smoking pot in public places, such as parks, would be illegal. But Swets reiterated Monday that council have to make it illegal.
“A big decision is whether to allow smoking in public places, such as parks, streets and sidewalks,” Swets said.
Marl said city council will consider the commercial marijuana issue at its meeting Dec. 3.
Marl also added that he and Mayor Pro-Tem Linda TerHaar have been approached by a medical marijuana business that wanted to expand its operations to Saline.