Council Passes Temporary Moratorium on Accepting and Processing of New Marijuana Facility Applications

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At a special meeting Monday, Saline City Council voted 5-2 Monday to approve an ordinance that acts as a temporary moratorium on the city's acceptance and processing of new applications for marijuana facility licenses. The city's Code Review Task Force, which composed the ordinances governing recreational and medical marijuana dispensaries, will review the ordinances and recommend changes to council.

At the May 2 meeting, City Council discussed issues with the ordinances governing zoning for recreational and medical marijuana establishments. Councillor Dean Girbach serves as a liaison to the planning commission, which recently granted a special land use permit and preliminary site plan approval for a marijuana facility at the site of Mickey's Dairy Twist on West Michigan Avenue. During the discussion, the commission learned that the ordinances prevent the facilities within 1,000 feet of schools but there is no such buffer for pre-schools and daycare centers. There is a daycare located not far from the site of the proposed west side marijuana dispensary. Councilor Girbach brought that discrepancy to city council and other members also voiced some concern.

Mayor Brian Marl said he believed that "in totality," the ordinances were "good."

"That having been said, we have been made aware of a few deficiencies. Between staff, city council, legal counsel and our code review committee, those can be worked through," Marl said.

Marl also referenced a second issue - the proximity of one marijuana facility to another.

The motion to pass the moratorium was made by Girbach and seconded by Councillor Janet Dillon.

Councillors Dawn Krause and Kevin Camero-Sulak voted against the moratorium.

"I'm a big fan of re-evaluating. Things that are in the far past often need to be brought current. Life changes. Society changes. Culture changes," Krause said. 

Krause said it was time to stop treating marijuana differently than alcohol or other drugs.

"That's OK, but a marijuana establishment is not. There aren't shades of legal. It's either legal or it's not," Krause said. "I think we need to work hard to change the stigma of marijuana - of how it's dispensed, of why it's dispensed. I look at it for people I know who use it for medical purposes. It's life-saving and I dare say a lot healthier than the opioids and drugs that we all take in our own prescription cabinet."

Krause said she was concerned the city was reacting to social media comments rather than trusting the three-year process that led to the ordinances.

City attorney Tom Forshee recommended the "emergency ordinance" to speed up the process.

"If more days pass, there might be more applications coming in. We wanted this to be effective as soon as possible," Forshee said.

Applicants who've already begun the process with the city will not be subject to any changes made to the ordinances. So the ordinance would not impact the proposed dispensary near the daycare by Mickey's Dairy Twist. Those issues will be before city council May 16.

"To pull this out at the 11th hour would be something that we don't want to do," Camero-Sulak said.

Camero-Sulak asked what precedent might be set by pausing the process for 120 days.

"I feel like we're switching things up all of the sudden when we've had ample time (to review the ordinances)," Camero-Sulak said. "What kind of legal risk does this put us in? Are we opening ourselves up for litigation with this sort of change based on social media?"

Forshee said these are policy decisions without legal concern - so long as the applications already in the pipeline continue under the existing ordinances.

"It's maybe a little unusual to make a change this early.  But there may be things that have come to light since then and that's totally legitimate. You have wide discretion to change laws as you see fit," Forshee said. "By allowing the applications already in the pipeline to continue under the ordinance, that lessens the litigation risk."

Camero-Sulak said he couldn't support the ordinance because it was coming at a "late hour" and without community feedback.

Councillor Girbach said planning commission wasn't aware that the state would have allowed the city to extend the school buffer so that it covered daycares.He said he wasn't responding to social media concerns, but the concerns of the planning commission.

He said reopening the ordinance language was a good way to get public opinion on issues before the city gets swamped with dispensary applications.

"There are communities that have had 13-15 applications come in. I don't want to be one of those communities if we have concerns from our citizenry," Girbach said.

Councillor Jim Dell'Orco, who helped craft the ordinances as liaison to the Code Review Task Force, said

"The assumption was, that when put this ordinance together, that the definition of schools would include daycare centers. It was much to the chagrin of many that it was not the case," Dell'Orco said. "At the very least it deserves a chance to come back to code review for a full evaluation. It doesn't necessarily mean the code review's recommendation is going to change."

Councillor Janet Dillon asked City  Manager Colleen O'Toole how many applications the city received after the city announced it was considering a moratorium. (Editor's note: It's not clear if, when and where the city made such an announcement).

O'Toole said she believed there were at least two applications since then.

The Code Review Task Force is expected to discuss the issue later this month. The task force would review any changes to city council for adoption.

The emergency ordinance puts the moratorium in place for 120 days. Council can end the moratorium early with a resolution or extend it with another emergency ordinance.

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And here we go again… City Council playing Big Brother and stirring the pot (no pun intended.) One step foward and three steps back. Girbaugh is not a good choice to head this up, he’s been against this from day one.  No wonder there are so many vacant stores in Saline…Saline City council needs to get over itself and get it done!!!

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I am thankful that council members are rethinking and discussing the guidelines. We don't want Saline to have dispensaries on every corner and end up looking like  our neighboring communities.  If I am not mistaken there are rules for liquor stores and liquor licenses.  If pot is to be treated just like alcohol then let's limit the licenses in the same way. 

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