Mayor vetoes council-approved marijuana facilities ordinance

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published April 12, 2018

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WARREN — A medical marijuana operations and facilities ordinance approved by the Warren City Council April 9 has been vetoed by Mayor Jim Fouts.

In a letter to City Clerk Paul Wojno and copied to Council Secretary Robert Boccomino April 12, Fouts cited a number of concerns with the ordinance as the reasons behind his veto.

The ordinance established a number of rules governing the operations of various types of medical marijuana facilities in Warren in accordance with state law. The rules, approved by a 6-1 vote after some final discussion at a special meeting, set guidelines for the number of licences and the application process; outlined zoning restrictions; and established buffer zones around schools, churches, city parks and libraries. Councilwoman Kelly Colegio cast the lone vote against the approval of the ordinance.  

The mayor stated in the letter that he didn’t feel the ordinance governing the commercial growth, processing and dispensing of medical marijuana went far enough and that it “should include greater safeguards for our community.”

“For example, it would be preferable to have an ordinance that could prevent medical marihuana operations within close proximity to our family and community activities,” Fouts said. “I would like buffer zones that would better protect the residents and community centers.”

Those concerns were also expressed by Colegio during the meeting. While the approved ordinance included a 1,000-foot buffer around schools, the boundary was set at 500 feet for other included facilities. Colegio and Fouts both said they wanted to see a 1,000-foot buffer around churches and parks. Fouts added public buildings to the list, and noted that Warren’s Fire Administration building on Schoenherr Road between Nine Mile and Stephens roads is just 30 feet away from a medical marijuana operation of some type.

Fouts said he would also “prefer an ordinance that revisits conditions in the neighborhoods, and addresses the more current complaints regarding medical marihuana.”

As approved, the ordinance would limit commercial medical marijuana growth operations to industrial areas. Provisioning centers, or dispensaries, however, would be allowed in some commercial zones.

The ordinance specifically addresses the provisions of the state’s Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act, approved by the Michigan Legislature in 2016. The law took effect in December 2016, and communities across the state have been given the option to opt in.

The act defines five types of licenses related to commercial medical marijuana facilities: growers, processors, provisioning centers, secure transporters and safety compliance centers. It also outlines various provisions for each sub-type.

The MMFLA runs parallel to the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which was approved by nearly 63 percent of the state’s voters in 2008.

Warren’s ordinance would limit the number of  dispensary licenses to 10 and would allow various types of license types to be “stacked” at the same location. In addition to the restrictions governing zoning and placement near schools and other facilities, placement in the “Downtown Center Area” bordered by Mound, 13 Mile, Hoover and 12 Mile roads would be excluded.

City fees associated with the process would include a $5,000 application and a $2,500 nonrefundable inspection cost. After the city’s application process is ready, a window of 60 days would open, after which a “Medical Marijuana Review Committee,” comprising the city attorney, the public service director and three City Council members — currently Council President Cecil St. Pierre, Councilman Steve Warner and Boccomino — or anyone else they designate in their place, would “score” the applications based on a list of criteria. That process would be subject to audit.

“Provisioning centers, up to 10 sites. I want the legislative record to be clear. Up to. We don’t have to give 10 (licenses),” St. Pierre said. “If we don’t think someone’s worthy of it with the scoring and the proposed plan, they don’t have to get it.”

Colegio cautioned against approving an ordinance at all, given the looming efforts to put marijuana legalization for recreational use on the statewide ballot, and the lingering conflicts with federal law.

“That could change the game, too, for everybody,” Colegio said. “I would feel better if we somehow asked the residents if this is what they want instead of us just arbitrarily opening the door and letting it in.

“I’m really not in support of it at this point. I know there’s a lot of money in it. It’s basically a billion-dollar industry. There’s a lot of money behind this. I worry about the integrity of the neighborhoods,” Colegio said.

At press time on April 13, Warren City Attorney Ethan Vinson confirmed the City Council would need five votes to override the mayor’s veto. The vote could come at either of the next two regular meetings.  The next meeting is set for April 24, should the council opt to go that route.