Sterling Heights City Council introduces opt-out for cannabis businesses

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 30, 2018

STERLING HEIGHTS — Two weeks after Michigan voters opted to legalize marijuana, the Sterling Heights City Council took a first step toward opting out of allowing recreational marijuana-related establishments to eventually open shop in the city.

At a Nov. 20 meeting, the council voted 4-3 to introduce the opt-out measure. Mayor Pro Tem Liz Sierawski and Councilwomen Barbara Ziarko, Maria Schmidt and Maria Koski voted yes. Mayor Michael Taylor and Councilmen Michael Radtke and Nate Shannon voted no.

Since the proposal was only introduced, it will have to go before the council again for a vote on whether to formally adopt it.

In November, Michigan voters approved Proposal 18-1, the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act. According to officials, the act will allow people 21 and older to possess, use and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana, and it will also set up a system for licensed retailers to sell marijuana products.

Voters in Sterling Heights approved the proposal 50.2-49.8 percent, and it passed 55.9-44.1 percent statewide.

During a presentation, Assistant City Attorney Don DeNault Jr. said that unlike the case with medical marijuana, in which cities had to opt in to have such businesses operate, the new law for recreational cannabis requires cities to opt out.  

DeNault recommended opting out at least until the state settles on its regulations. He also said he wants further studying of the impact of marijuana businesses on a city’s federal funding and tax credits.

“We recommend at the moment that communities opt out right now, not because the community is passing judgment on whether or not to opt in, but just to protect the community in the event that a business tries to apply to the state because it has a local address and then later says to our community, ‘Too bad; you’re too late; you can’t zone us out; you can’t regulate us, because you didn’t act as the act required you to do,’” he said.

“And while that risk might be slight, doing nothing, nevertheless, does create a risk that that could happen.”

DeNault said he expects the state to take up to two years to finalize its marijuana industry regulations, adding that other states have taken a similar length of time.

He said a city moratorium on marijuana businesses would not stop people of age from lawfully using, possessing or growing small amounts of marijuana, starting in December. The law prohibits consuming or smoking weed in a public place or while operating a vehicle or being a passenger, he said.

Schmidt said opting out now doesn’t mean that the city will always opt out, but she believes that it’s currently the “safe thing to do.”

Sierawski also said she is in favor of presently opting out of having marijuana businesses.

“This is only something we are doing just to make sure we are not jumping ahead and getting ahead of ourselves,” she said. “We want to make sure we are on the ball and following the regulations when we get them.”

Shannon and Radtke mentioned that the city’s voters approved legalized marijuana, and officials should respect their wishes. They floated the idea of a two-year sunset clause on any postponement.

Radtke criticized the discussion for becoming a “boogeyman discussion” and was skeptical that the council would reverse a decision to opt out.

“When things happen in Sterling Heights, they kind of go on the same track,” he said. “And the idea that we’re going to say that ... we’re going to ban it temporarily and somewhere in the distant future maybe we’ll all come to a conclusion that we should re-institute it or re-approach it — we all know that’s false.

“People up here are lying to you. It’s never going to happen.”

Ziarko and Schmidt criticized that remark, without directly naming the speaker.

“We can agree to disagree up here, but for a colleague to accuse four people that disagree with him to be lying to the public is totally inappropriate and uncalled for,” Schmidt said.

Taylor said he’d prefer it if the city made its own regulations for marijuana businesses in the coming months and adjusted them as needed according to what the state ultimately decides.

“I don’t see any pressing reason why it has to be delayed to two years or three years,” he said. “There is no way that anybody could open up a marijuana facility. … We can be a leader in the state on this issue, and we can come up with our own rules and perhaps even have some influence on what the state is doing.”

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