Utica adopts ordinance allowing medical and recreational marijuana businesses

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published February 3, 2020


UTICA — The city of Utica recently adopted an ordinance that will allow medical and recreational marijuana businesses to submit applications to request possible operations in Utica.

The Utica City Council approved the ordinance Jan. 14 at its monthly meeting.

The purpose of the ordinance is to set regulations for the operation of a medical marijuana facility or a marijuana establishment in the city of Utica. Under the ordinance, the city will authorize no more than two medical marijuana provisioning center licenses and no more than one medical marijuana grower license in the city. The ordinance says the provisioning centers will be on the west side of Van Dyke Avenue and south of Hall Road, and the growing facility will be located in an industrial zone.

The ordinance also says that the city will authorize two marijuana retailer licenses in the city that will “co-locate” with the location of a medical marijuana provisioning center. The city also will authorize no more than one marijuana grower license that will “co-locate” with the location of a licensed medical marijuana grower location.

Utica City Clerk Beth Ricketts said that Utica decided to create its own ordinance because there was a possible ballot proposal to allow businesses with limited language, and the City Council wanted to create its own ordinance according to what it believed was better for the city. The council thought that the ballot proposal would pass.

Thom Dionne, the mayor of Utica, said the city had received a lot of interest from potential applicants, and a signed petition.

“The city was faced with having an ordinance adopted by way of referendum. A group representing a prospective marijuana business owner went door to door and collected signatures via a petition. The petition was then presented to the city,” he said in an email.

He said the council was faced with a big decision.

“Council was faced with adopting the ordinance or rejecting it, and thus having it put on the ballot by law. The ordinance was very limited and gave the city very little ability to regulate the candidates for licensing. Council was fine delaying the process by opting out of marijuana sales in Utica. The proposed ordinance pushed the issue to the forefront. Our city attorney, (Linda McGrail), worked with council and the parties that brought the proposed ordinance forward to find an ordinance that was agreeable to council and the would-be marijuana businesses,” he said.  

Henry Yanez, who submitted the petition to Utica, said he is happy with the direction Utica chose to go.

“I feel the Utica mayor and City Council wrote an ordinance that’s right for their city. Their thoughtful review of the situation and the desire to infuse investment dollars into a part of the city that sorely needs it will help Utica continue to grow, as well as benefit the Van Dyke corridor,” he said in an email.

Dionne said that the reason the city was more willing to create the ordinance was the fact that part of the ordinance focuses on areas where the city will allow the businesses. The areas selected to possibly have the businesses are areas the council wants to see improved. The city can have two retail stores and one grow site.

“The areas that were considered were the blighted areas of the city, such as Van Dyke, south of Hall Road. That area of the city has been underappreciated and has lacked commercial business interest for many years — evident by the number of vacant buildings. The concept was, if marijuana retail stores were going to be introduced into the city, it would be required that those proposed stores occupy areas that need the most revitalization. This area will allow for two licenses for retail marijuana. We are likely to see once-vacant buildings, or underdeveloped properties, become a tax-producing entity with new curb appeal,” Dionne said.

He said they are hoping this will spur other new development as well.

“The second location within the city is the area which is zoned industrial. Similarly, those areas have underutilized properties that have fallen into disrepair, and several lack curb appeal. The ordinance would allow for a marijuana grow operation. Our research shows that marijuana grow facilities are typically nondescript buildings of a warehouse design that typically draw little attention to themselves. This zone allows for one license,” Dionne said.

He said the ordinance has regulations that these businesses must follow to be allowed to sell.

“There would be regulations in place to assure that these buildings will look very much like any other store one would see along Hall Road. Council has expressed that these buildings will be very clean and much more resemble a high-end coffee shop or office building. There will be no innuendo with wording, signage or alike. No green medical signage or anything that would draw undue attention,” said Dionne.

Each building will be inspected, and the city will request that many requirements be met.

A point system will be used to rank each of the applicants for licenses. Licenses must also be reviewed each year.

Businesses cannot operate between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Utica City Councilman Gus Calandrino said he had discussed the Marihuana Business Ordinance, as the city named it, with many residents.

“Some support and others oppose allowing these businesses in our city. Utica voted in favor of the medical marijuana proposal 65% to 35% and the recreational marijuana proposal 59% to 41%. It’s our duty to respect the wishes of the voters. However, we must also be sensitive to the concerns of residents who oppose marijuana,” he said in an email.

Calandrino said that in order to decide how to regulate the facilities, Utica had to pass the ordinance so that the city could control the rules where the businesses could be located prior to considering applications.

“It was necessary for the city to pass our own ordinance to retain control of where we allow marijuana facilities and how we regulate them. We focused on the west side of Van Dyke, south of Hall Road, in hopes of stimulating new development there. This business corridor is marred by many vacant and unattractive properties.

Ricketts said that the license application period began Feb. 3 and will last for 21 days.

For more information on the ordinance, call the city at (586) 739-1600.