As expected, the City of Saline will opt out of the commercial marijuana business and pass up on associated tax revenue.
During a discussion at the Dec. 3 meeting, Saline City Council members appeared to agree that regulations associated with new state law, passed by Michigan voters in November, were too ambiguous for the city to allow commercial businesses. So, for now, at least, pot smokers who aren’t growing their own plants will have to buy marijuana elsewhere.
For the second straight meeting, council managed to discuss the issue without debating the pros and cons of allowing retail or commercial pot businesses in the city. Instead, council members instead remained focused on the unknown.
“I still believe, at this point, given the number of questions and the unpredictability of where the state law will take us, that we should opt out,” said Councillor Jack Ceo.
Many on council echoed Ceo’s point.
Answering a question from Councillor Janet Dillon, city attorney Roger Swets said he was confident that if the city chose to opt out, it would be able to change its course in the future.
“It’s our opinion whatever ordinance is adopted (to opt out) would not be irrevocable,” Swets told council.
Three members of council did express some hesitation about opting out. Mayor Brian Marl and councillors Christen Mitchell and Heidi McClelland all mentioned the “will of the people.” More than 57 percent of city voters approved the recreational pot proposal. McClelland said she was in favor of opting out at the present, but the idea on the backburner while watching the state and seeing how other communities dealt with the issue. Mitchell said she was surprised by how many people she spoke with who favored having some place in town to buy marijuana products.
“I was not expecting that. I misread this one. I’m very surprised by the number of people interested in having some or all of the process here,” Mitchell said.
She said she heard from people who wanted local access to recreational or medical marijuana and the business and jobs it would create. Mitchell said that while she supported opting out for now, she was wanted to study potential policies for a marijuana business in Saline.
Mayor Marl said he too struggled with the issue. He said he voted against the state medical marijuana proposal in 2008 and the recreational proposal this year because they were “inartfully written.” But, as he said two weeks ago, he believed in the “sanctity of elections.”
“57 percent of the voters in our community supported this proposal. That’s approaching landslide numbers. It’s an even greater percentage than the number of people who supported the street millage,” Marl said. “While the regulatory framework needs to be adopted, the majority of my constituents favor legalization. So, I would be amenable to I could be convinced to opt out the guarantee that we revisit the issue in a six to 12 month period.”
Councillor Linda TerHaar said she was opposed to time frame on the issue.
Like Mitchell, Marl said he was surprised by how many constituents and business owners were not adverse to the idea of retail marijuana establishments.
The city expects to have an opt-out ordinance to review at its meeting Dec. 17.
The law could does allow Saline residents to force a vote on retail marijuana establishments. A petition signed by a little more than 250 registered voters would put the question on a referendum during the next regular election.
Mayor Marl said the city had been contacted by a Detroit-area company with several medical marijuana dispensaries in the region. Currently, the city does not allow medical marijuana dispensaries.
"There are two reasons (why the city doesn't have dispensaries). One, the law was poorly written and for a long time there was a lot of confusion around dispensaries. And secondly, the city wasn't approached by businesses who wanted to start here," Marl said.
But, given the recent interest and the changing attitudes, Marl said he'd be open to discussing the issue with council.