Royal Oak to solicit input for recreational marijuana stance

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published January 22, 2019

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ROYAL OAK — The more city officials look into the topic of regulating recreational marijuana, the more questions arise, Royal Oak Community Engagement Specialist Judy Davids said.

The city’s current stance on recreational marijuana establishments in the city is “no for now,” as determined by a 4-3 vote Nov. 12. The City Commission also directed staff to find ways to solicit public input so that the city can construct a framework for potentially allowing such establishments.

In a Jan. 14 work session, Davids presented various ways the city could reach the most Royal Oak residents to find out more about how they feel about recreational marijuana for adults, as well as their feelings regarding potentially licensing facilities in the city.

She said the city plans to offer a “Cannabis 101” informational session with as many diverse experts as possible. The event would include a presentation, as well as a question-and-answer session.

“It will be televised and also via Facebook live, so even if you can’t make it to the meeting, you can still watch it and ask questions when the experts are here,” Davids said. “We are hoping to do that in February.”

Following the informational session, she said, the city plans to send out a scientific survey in March through a third-party research firm. She said people will be randomly selected and sent questionnaires, which they’ll be asked to return.

She said city officials felt that offering an educational event before the survey went out was important because people probably have a lot of questions.

“We realize there will probably be strong feelings from both sides, and we want to hear from the average Royal Oak person,” Davids said. “We’ll for sure make the survey available online too, but we really want to know what the average person thinks, not someone really for or really against.”

At the next City Commission meeting Feb. 11, Davids said, the city likely will announce its community engagement strategy and at the same time officially opt out from allowing recreational marijuana establishments in Royal Oak.

“We don’t want people to get the wrong impression that we’re opting out and not open to the idea at all,” she said. “Based on what residents say, we’ll either remain opting out or we’ll look at what there’s an appetite here for.”

For example, she said, maybe residents are not opposed to retail outlets, but only want one and to limit its location away from schools or churches.

While 55 percent of Michigan voters approved the regulation and taxation of recreational marijuana for those ages 21 and older in the Nov. 7 general election, 70 percent of Royal Oak voters approved Proposal 1.

Royal Oak City Manager Don Johnson said 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.

Tim Thwing, Royal Oak’s director of community development, said during the Nov. 12 meeting that he had already been receiving phone calls from those interested in setting up shop in the community.

While communities had to specifically opt in for the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act, under the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana 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 has until Dec. 6 to set regulations for licensing recreational marijuana facilities.

Royal Oak City Attorney David Gillam said that if the state did not set regulations for licensing, it would fall on the city, and he would rather have something in place. During the Nov. 12 meeting, he said he was “not optimistic that the state’s going to be able to get it done.”

During the Jan. 14 work session, Gillam mentioned that one of his colleagues said the state’s recreational marijuana legislation presented “more unanswered, gray areas and loopholes” than the medical marijuana bill, which was known for being hazy.

If the city decided to opt out, he said, it could always opt in later once the state has established a framework, or once Royal Oak had more time to put its own framework in place.

Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier said at the work session that the state would remain a variable in the equation.

“You could come up with the world’s greatest plan and then the state can just say, ‘Nope, none of that matters,’ and in a way, we’re back to square one,” Fournier said. “In my opinion, I don’t think getting citizen input early and education early is bad at all. At least then we’ve got half the learning curve done.”

For more information, visit www.romi.gov or call Royal Oak City Hall at (248) 246-3000. To view the full text of the recreational marijuana initiative, visit www.regulatemi.org/initiative.

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.

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