‘No for now’ on recreational marijuana facilities in Royal Oak

City to solicit public input

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published November 16, 2018

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ROYAL OAK — On Nov. 12, the Royal Oak City Commission voted 4-3 to prohibit recreational marijuana establishments in the city and also directed staff to solicit public input so the city can construct a framework for potentially allowing such establishments.

While 55 percent of Michigan voters approved the regulation and taxation of recreational marijuana for those ages 21 and older, 70 percent of Royal Oak voters approved Proposal 1.

“That’s compelling,” Commissioner Kyle Dubuc said.

He was among the three commissioners who voted against the motion, saying that he thought it was “at best a terrible message to send six days after the election to prohibit the very thing that residents voted for.”

Commissioner Melanie Macey and Mayor Pro Tem Sharlan Douglas, who initially seconded Commissioner Pat Paruch’s motion but later said Dubuc and Macey swayed her opinion, also cast “nay” votes.

City Manager Don Johnson said that a “yes” vote for Proposal 1 does not clearly indicate how voters feel toward recreational marijuana — whether they support brick-and-mortar dispensaries in the community or simply the notion of the personal use and cultivation of marijuana.

“Our thought was that we prohibit it until we decide specifically what we’re going to allow,” Johnson said. “Whether or not we’re going to have marijuana stores in town is something we haven’t decided yet.”

Tim Thwing, Royal Oak’s director of community development, brought the item before the City Commission because he said he has already been receiving phone calls from those interested in setting up shop in the community.

His recommendation was to direct City Attorney David Gillam to draft an ordinance completely prohibiting all marijuana establishments defined within the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act in Royal Oak’s boundaries.

“At the very least, we believe that should be the default position until and unless the City Commission, after careful consideration and deliberation, takes an affirmative action to allow marihuana facilities,” Thwing wrote in his memo to the commission.

While communities had to specifically opt in for the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act, Thwing explained that under the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, the state is required to issue operating licenses for marijuana establishments anywhere in Michigan unless a local municipality enacts an ordinance prohibiting them.

The state also has one year to set regulations for licensing recreational marijuana facilities.

“There’s a default provision in the act that if the state doesn’t establish the regulatory framework within a period of a year, then an individual or an entity has a right to make an application to the local community for the license it would need to operate a recreational marijuana establishment, so we can’t necessarily just wait for the state,” Gillam said. “We have to be somewhat proactive.”

Gillam said that the city could always amend an ordinance to opt out down the road.

“To be honest, I’m not optimistic that the state’s going to be able to get it done,” he said.

Several commissioners expressed the need to gain more input from residents in order to move forward with a definitive ordinance.

“I’d like to be proactive about it, but one of the key things for me is really hearing from our residents, the 70 percent that approved this,” Mayor Michael Fournier said. 

Macey said she thought that, if the commission is going to direct use of staff time, it should be directing staff to figure out how to seek community input.

“Are we going to have a town hall? Are we going to have a survey? How are we going to find out what the community wants? We have time — pretty close to a year, if not longer,” Macey said.

Gillam said he felt the city had less than a year because, if the state did not set regulations for licensing, it would fall on the city and he would rather have something in place.

Royal Oak Community Engagement Specialist Judy Davids said she and staff were working out how to get the best response from the community.

Johnson said that in the coming year, the city would be conducting a “scientific” customer service survey through Cobalt Community Research and that it is looking at adding marijuana questions.

“It’s very clear from the discussion that a number of commissioners viewed the vote as an indication that maybe we should be allowing dispensaries, but even if we do, there’s the question of do we want to limit (how many we allow) and where do we want them to be,” he said.

To view the full text of the recreational marijuana initiative, visit www.regulatemi.org/initiative.