Utica prohibits recreational marijuana facilities, businesses

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published January 14, 2019


UTICA — At its Jan. 8 City Council meeting, Utica joined many other communities that have chosen to opt out of recreational marijuana facilities and businesses.

The vote was 5-1. Councilman Brad O’Donnell cast the one nay vote.

In the November election, 55 percent of Michigan voters approved the regulation and taxation of recreational marijuana for those 21 and older. There were a total of 2,137 ballots cast in Utica, and of those votes, 1,228 voted yes and 852 voted no for Proposal 1, which was to legalize recreational marijuana. There were 57 voters who did not vote on Proposal 1.

However, Utica will not be allowing the establishment of marijuana businesses within its borders based on the vote to accept the ordinance that the city attorney drafted to opt out.

“What the city is doing at this time is saying we’re going to wait to see what happens when the laws come out and they’re effective and reasonable and understandable. That way, when it comes time that if we do opt to have recreation marijuana sales facilities, we could do it under the current law as it operates without going in too early,” said Utica Mayor Thom Dionne.

The ordinance prohibits the establishment of any marijuana micro-businesses. However, possession of marijuana within the city boundaries will remain legal under state law.

Utica City Attorney Linda Belau described the reason behind why the city must take action now, and how the law governing recreational marijuana is different from the previous act governing medical marijuana, in that cities had to opt in to have medical marijuana facilities in their borders, and now cities have to opt out if they don’t want recreational marijuana businesses in their borders.

She said that opting out is prudent until the city sees what the state puts into place with regard to regulations, and the city could revisit the decision in the future.

“While we’re seeing how the state is going to license and handle everything, there’s a lot of unknowns out there. So, what we’re seeing is a lot of municipalities are choosing to opt out until those rules come out, which should happen about one year from now,” Belau said.

She said that the council adopting the ordinance Jan. 8 does not prevent the city from revisiting the topic of marijuana facilities again later.

At the previous council meeting in December, when the council voted to have the ordinance opting out of marijuana businesses drafted, then-Councilman William Osladil said that he had been part of a lot of discussions on marijuana topics during Macomb Area Communities for Regional Opportunities meetings.

“This doesn’t say we’re for medical marijuana; it doesn’t say we’re against it. It doesn’t say we’re for recreational or against recreational; it’s just giving us a little time for the laws and licensing and the state to catch up so that we are able to put in place things that we need,” Osladil said.

Dionne spoke further on this topic at the Jan. 8 meeting after the ordinance was approved.

“This is still something that could potentially happen,” he said. “It’s a no right now until we have much more information on the matter.” said Dionne.

“The voters of Utica approved the marijuana proposal overwhelmingly. No matter what you think of marijuana, we owe it to voters to respect their wishes,” O’ Donnell said via email of his nay vote.