Sterling Heights City Council opts out of allowing weed businesses

Vote splits 4-3 along familiar lines

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published December 7, 2018


STERLING HEIGHTS — No minds were changed on the Sterling Heights City Council, which voted to adopt a proposal to opt out of letting recreational marijuana businesses operate in the city.

The council voted 4-3 Dec. 4 to adopt the opt-out measure. The vote was the same as a Nov. 20 procedural introduction vote on the issue: Mayor Pro Tem Liz Sierawski and Councilwomen Barbara Ziarko, Maria Schmidt and Maria Koski voted in favor, while Mayor Michael Taylor and Councilmen Michael Radtke and Nate Shannon voted in opposition.

Michigan voters passed Proposal 18-1 in November to allow people 21 and older to possess, use and cultivate marijuana within specified limits. While cities are required to go along with allowing individual use, the proposal gives communities an opt-out option when it comes to allowing licensed retailers to sell marijuana products.

The city attorney recommended opting out at least until the state finalizes its regulations, which may be in a year or two.

Schmidt said she is comfortable with voting yes, adding that she worries about an increase of marijuana access that could lead to more usage among children, especially with the home growing.

“The kids didn’t vote it in, but boy, I bet they’re sure going to try things out,” she said.

Residents favoring and opposing the opt-out debated the topic during a public comment period. Some residents who favor marijuana businesses in Sterling Heights said that allowing cannabis businesses would bring more tax revenue.

When asked about the possible impact, City Attorney Marc Kaszubski said the law imposes a 10 percent excise tax toward marijuana, and of that 10 percent, 15 percent will go to communities that have a marijuana facility in place.

Based on projections, he believes that around $11 million in revenue will go to communities in around 2019 or 2020, netting a community about $20,000 per establishment.

“It’s not a huge amount of money when you compare it to the enforcement that would likely be put in place for each particular unit,” Kaszubski said.

Some council members brought up Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski’s opinion on enforcing legalized marijuana from a Nov. 20 council meeting discussion. When asked to speak on the topic, Dwojakowski said the city has already been dealing with issues over homegrown medical marijuana operations. It had 60-70 inspections last year and shut down around 20-30 operations, he said.

“This year we’re on track to do 100 inspections, and probably 30-40 grow operations that are illegal — we’ll have to shut them down. Which is a lot of manpower, a lot of resources to do the investigation,” the chief said. “We just don’t have enough guys.”

Dwojakowski added that mishaps with growing the plant can lead to fires that the Fire Department has to deal with.

At the Dec. 4 meeting, Radtke said he has received letters from supporters and opponents on this issue, and he said that “leadership is taking a stand and trying to decide an issue for the residents.”

He said  the marijuana industry is a business that brings in sales taxes and business taxes that are returned to communities through revenue sharing. While Radtke said he believes the new law needs amending and he expressed concern over home growing operations, he believes that marijuana businesses could offer a safe alternative for consumers to get their products.

“Instead of preventing the home grows in the city, it’s going to increase them,” Radtke said.  

Koski said she has listened to the city attorney’s opinion, and — even if the idea is farfetched — she doesn’t want to see a hypothetical developer try to create a mini community themed around marijuana businesses.

“I probably will not be here when this comes back to the table, but I can guarantee you if I am, I’m still going to vote no,” she said.

Taylor said that the city has enough information available to make its own regulations on marijuana businesses, adding that it has the power to make time, place and manner restrictions, as well as to regulate the hours of operation and enforce certain zoning restrictions.

Taylor said that even if the council makes the city opt out, the new state act allows residents to enact a petition drive. With enough signatures to make up 5 percent of the city’s gubernatorial voters, they could succeed in making their own marijuana business regulation ordinance, he said.  

“Next thing you know, you’ve got 25 … recreational establishments or 50 or whatever they dream up,” Taylor said.

“We must be mindful that that is very likely to come down the pike. And if we truly want to be protective, then this council needs to create a good, restrictive ordinance that limits the number of these facilities (and) puts them only in places where we can be very sure that the residents are going to be protected.”

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