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Ontonagon revisits pot

(Skip Schulz/For the Gazette) Ontonagon village manager Joe Erickson (second from right) explains to the council the current and possible changes to the village’s zoning requirements, including if the village opts in to allow a retail marijuana business at a later date. The village has already voted to opt out of allowing a retail marijuana business.

ONTONAGON — It is like that relative that comes every Thanksgiving, the one that never goes away. Same situation on two issues at an Ontonagon Village Council meeting. The marijuana issue and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget battle.

At Monday night’s meeting, the agenda item was on updating and revising the village’s zoning ordinance. Another crowded council chamber, and the media, anticipated this would simply be a formality, at least until the recently-appointed President Tony Smydra opened the issue.

Smydra, joined with then-President Gerard Waldrop, and councilors Sarah Hopper and Don Chastain in not voting to opt out of allowing for a marijuana retail business, but rather wanting more information on the issue.

That is until a recent meeting where councilor Mike Mogen was presented a petition calling for a village referendum on the issue of whether to allow a marijuana retail business to be allowed to open in the village.

“The Planning Commission took a lot of time and a lot of effort and good work into redeveloping the marijuana policy. It was already in place for medical marijuana and the revision was intended to re-work the policy so that all marijuana use would be included in it,” explained Smydra. “The other issue that was brought up was the need for a special use permit within that.”

Smydra refreshed those at the meeting when councilor Sarah Hopper questioned whether bars and establishments that sell liquor has to go through the special use permit, like that of a marijuana business.

Maps were shown where bars are permitted in the village where a public hearing is not needed. Other maps showed where certain businesses in the map area of the village would require a public hearing and where businesses would not need a hearing.

Smydra than showed a map where any marijuana business could be located, “that is if the council opts in for a retail marijuana business.

The council voted at the last meeting in October to opt out of allowing a retail marijuana business. The reason for the zoning was that under Michigan law the council can opt in at a later date to allow a retail marijuana business and the Village would have an ordinance in place.

Even if the council votes to opt in at a later date, it would first go to the Village Planning Commission, than to the council for a vote.

The other issue that continues to be brought up at council meetings deals with Gov. Whitmer’s state budget. A budget that, through line item vetoes, will have an impact on rural communities, hospitals, and school districts.

While the state budget has revolved around the Governor’s proposed 45 cent/gallon gasoline tax, at the last council meeting, the gas tax proposal was not brought up.

“The big issue right now is the Governor’s use of the Administrative Board to move appropriated funds that were not vetoed to other programs and departments,” said village manager Joe Erickson. “This is a classic power struggle between the Executive and Legislative branches of government. I don’t think this will be resolved anytime soon.”

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