Marijuana task force research revealed

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 6, 2023

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Sterling Heights officials have a stash of new information on how other communities regulate marijuana facilities.

At a Dec. 20 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, City Manager Mark Vanderpool said the city’s Marihuana Task Force finished a mission to research other communities’ best practices over marijuana facilities and related policies.

A broad spectrum of city officials served on the task force, such as Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski, Fire Chief Kevin Edmond, City Development Director Jason Castor, Community Relations Director Melanie Davis, Economic Development Adviser Luke Bonner, Finance and Budget Director Jennifer Varney, City Attorney Marc Kaszubski, City Manager Mark Vanderpool and City Clerk Melanie Ryska.

During the meeting, Kaszubski gave a timeline of critical moments in Michigan’s marijuana policies. In 2008, medical marijuana was decriminalized. Then in 2016, there was an act that established state licensing for medical marijuana-related businesses. And then a successful 2018 ballot initiative legalized recreational marijana and created a commercial licensing option for relevant businesses, too.

Kaszubski explained that the 2016 and 2018 laws gave municipalities a choice on whether to allow medical and/or recreational marijuana businesses.

“Like other states that have implemented marijuana on a commercial basis, the majority of municipalities in the state, in Michigan, have chosen not to allow commercial sales of marijuana in their community,” he said.

He said that, as of December 2022, around 15.1% of Michigan municipalities allow at least some kind of marijuana facility. Examples in Macomb County include Center Line, Chesterfield Township, Harrison Township, Lenox Township, Mount Clemens, Romeo, Roseville, Utica and Warren, he added.

Kaszubski said the task force looked at marijuana facilities’ impact on law enforcement, impaired driving, illegal grow operations and product availability. He said, based on their research, “there was no significant increase in any crime or public safety issues reported.”

He added that, while there are more reported marijuana-involved auto accidents in the state, “there’s no evidence to suggest that allowing any dispensaries in Sterling Heights would have (a) significant traffic safety impact.”

The city attorney said Sterling Heights has cracked down on illicit grow operations that flout the law and grow marijuana out of their homes, often for the black market.

“The evidence that we see so far is that allowing dispensaries in Sterling Heights is not going to decrease the black market because of the current federal law and the availability to transport out of state to other states that don’t have medical or recreational marijuana licenses available, so they tend to feed that industry,” he said.

When it comes to the financials, Varney said the state has given municipalities $56,453 per marijuana retail establishment in fiscal year 2021, but she said that figure will likely decline around 30% as marijuana is expected to get cheaper. Municipalities can also charge a fee of up to $5,000 per application or renewal, she said. But Varney said that allowing facilities could also bring costs from potential consulting, administrative and legal fees, she said.

“Now legal fees are very difficult to estimate, but nearly every community that has allowed limited licenses has been involved in some sort of litigation with the applicants that were not selected,” Varney said.

In one scenario, Varney said, if the city were to get 30 applications and let five provisioning centers build, Sterling Heights would get an estimated $178,000 per year over five years. If the city were to allow 10 provisioning centers, that average annual revenue over five years would climb to $410,000, she said.

Bonner said the city held forums and a community survey on the marijuana facility issue. He said aired public concerns included issues of health, traffic and property values, and proponents reportedly were hopeful for jobs and increased property values. The survey showed around 41% agreeing and 59% disagreeing that the city should allow marijuana retailers in commercial or industrial areas, he added.

Vanderpool left future action up to the City Council. He added that the city would welcome feedback at its strategic planning meeting in January.

Most council members deferred on having any discussion of the report at that time. But Mayor Michael Taylor predicted that the issue would return to the council. And he said he trusts city officials to research the matter better than a consultant.

“I don’t think that there’s any way to avoid having a discussion about marijuana in the long term here,” he said. “I would predict that Sterling Heights is going to have marijuana facilities.

“It might not be because of this council; it might not be because of the next council. But it is coming; it is an inevitability. I don’t believe there’s anything that’s going to stop it.”

Read the marijuana report by visiting Sterling Heights’ website at, or learn more by calling (586) 446-2489.