Houghton considers opting out on allowing retail marijuana joints

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Houghton Planning Commission member Travis Pierce, left, talks about the potential for the city to opt out of recreational marijuana sales during Wednesday’s combined meeting of the commission and City Council as commission members Gary Lubinski and Tom Merz (right) listen.

HOUGHTON — Houghton may join the number of Michigan municipalities banning recreational marijuana establishments.

Citing the uncertainty of state regulations, City Manager Eric Waara said he would add a resolution at the council’s Jan. 23 meeting to set a public hearing for a proposed ordinance.

“There’s probably a year, two years or more where there’s going to be litigation,” he said during a combined meeting of the Houghton City Council and Planning Commission Wednesday. “There’s going to be all those things out there. I don’t think we want to spend our taxpayer dollars on lawyer fees trying to figure that out.

“Let someone else figure that out.”

More than 60 municipalities statewide have opted out of allowing recreational marijuana sales. If the council does not do that, the city would opt in by default, Waara said.

In November, state voters approved legalizing recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over.

The state is developing a regulatory framework for licensing retailers of recreational marijuana. The law approved in November requires the state to begin making applications available by Dec. 6.

The opt-out ordinance would only affect sales. Residents over 21 can possess up to 2.5 ounces, as well as up to 12 plants.

Prohibitions against smoking marijuana in public places still apply.

Chief John Donnelly said after the city approved a medical marijuana ordinance in 2008, state law still took time to catch up. The city’s ordinance had been a stumbling block for prosecution of suspected criminal activity at the site, Donnelly said. That only changed when state regulations got ironed out, he said.

“Right now, I think anything that comes out is going to be subject to change on a regular basis every time there’s a new court hearing,” he said.

Council members who spoke Wednesday agreed opting out is the wise move for now.

“I think in five years when the state gets its act together, we can reconsider opting in,” said Councilor Rachel Lankton.

Planning Commission member Travis Pierce said he was interested to see what the public says at the hearing.

“That’s really not what the vote came out and asked us, as citizens,” he said. “It said, ‘Do you want this, yes or no?’ not ‘How do you want to access it?'”

Looking at the law, Planning Commission member Bill Leder noticed a provision where voters can place an opt-in or opt-out referendum on the ballot.

“With enough signatures on a petition, the electors in the city can make the decision either way,” he said.