Hancock moves with caution toward recreational marijuana ordinance

The Hancock City Council held a work session on the evening of August 1 to discuss how the city will go forward with the licensing of marijuana businesses. The term “businesses” includes producers, processors, distributors, and retailers. The meeting was called by the ad hoc recreational marijuana committee to present their draft of an ordinance.

The topic has been a hot-button issue since recreational marijuana was legalized in Michigan by popular vote last year. While recreational marijuana is legal in Michigan, it is up to individual municipalities to determine whether sale will be allowed – and if so, how it will be regulated – within those municipalities.

The City of Hancock is currently “opted out” — meaning that marijuana businesses cannot operate in Hancock at this time. However, that decision was made to give the city council time to research the effect that marijuana businesses might have on the city and determine how best to regulate it in the event that the city later decides to opt back in.

There was also some early concerns over federal government funding, as marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. However, a new memo suggests that this is not the case, provided that municipalities selling marijuana do not use that revenue as their grant match when applying for federal funds.

“[The federal government] is kind of keeping their distance from it,” said city counselor and committee member William Lytle. “As far as we can tell, there aren’t any municipalities that have had their federal funding denied because of marijuana.”

Further, allowing marijuana businesses in the city could be a way to generate revenue because 20% of a state licensing fee can be collected by the city in which the business operates. This revenue wouldn’t be substantial, it would be enough to help address some concerns that citizens may have regarding marijuana use in the city.

“[The committee thinks] that the administrative fees should be used to supplement the creation of a code enforcement position,” Lytle said. “… many concerns that people have about marijuana use are already covered by existing codes. The problem is enforcement.”

Concerns discussed at the work session include noise and parking violations and the conditions of properties.

“I don’t want to hire someone to go around harassing people on the street,” Mayor Paul LaBine said. “But, it’d be nice to have someone go around, who’s an expert in property maintenance, to address those things.”

In order to further facilitate monitoring of concerns, the committee is looking at zoning restrictions that would limit marijuana businesses to operating on Quincy Street to Dakota Street. This would potentially bring more traffic to the downtown area, and avoid residential areas.

“One of the reasons that we chose downtown is because the down town needs strong businesses,” said City Counselor Whitney Warstler, also on the committee. “Strong businesses attract strong businesses.”

Concerns were raised regarding the presence of a church and part of Finlandia’s campus within that zone and those concerns are being considered.

“We just have to be careful and do the right thing without making haste,” said City Counselor Ron Blau, not a member of the committee. “I’d also like to see what Houghton does.”

The committee has been working with the City of Houghton to ensure that the two cities have “similar if not identical” marijuana legislation. The committee has also been in contact with city officials from Breckenridge, Colorado, a city of similar population where recreational marijuana is already legal.

“There’s a lot to go over. There’s going to be a lot of challenges but this was a good first step,” said LaBine. “We’re talking about it and a lot of communities don’t even want to touch it.”

The city council and planning commissions both need to vote on the ordinance draft. The public will then be notified prior to a comments session, after which the council will vote again on whether to pass the ordinance. If passed, the ordinance would come into effect no sooner than mid-October.