‘I respect democracy’: Divided City Council approves pot facilities ban

Alexander Sinn • Mar 20, 2019 at 10:00 AM

Disregarding the recommendation of the Planning Commission, the Grand Haven City Council on Monday approved a change in the city’s Zoning Ordinance to ban recreational marijuana facilities.

The 3-2 decision came after the Planning Commission voted last week to not recommend changes to the ordinance as regulations are being hashed out in Lansing. Commissioners said the voters had spoken in November, with 56 percent of the city supporting legalization amid passage of the law statewide.

The zoning amendment accompanies the city’s prohibition under its police authority, City Manager Pat McGinnis explained. The city’s attorney, Ron Bultje, recommended both policies to protect the city against legal challenges from the marijuana industry. Other municipalities have opted to do the same, he said.

Councilman Bob Monetza was the first to oppose the ordinance. He supported the city’s initial ban in November 2018, concerned the voter-initiated law was poorly crafted, but decided Monday to side with the Planning Commission’s recommendation.

“I respect democracy,” Monetza said, appealing to local voters’ support of legalization, and saying the city’s existing ban is legally sufficient.

Monetza said he suspects the “real reason” city officials wanted a ban written into the Zoning Ordinance was to avoid a public referendum and to take challenging rights from the voters.

“I’m tempted to defer to democracy,” he added. “The large majority of the Planning Commission had the right view.”

Councilman Mike Fritz, who voted against the zoning ban, said the city should be selective with its permitting, whereas the ordinance would prohibit pot businesses within “all” zoning districts. He compared the issue to allowing pornographic retail in specific districts.

Councilman Josh Brugger said voters were focused on recreational marijuana use becoming a non-criminal activity, but said retail is a separate issue. He said he has “had a hard time finding a good argument for recreational marijuana,” but is open to discussing medical facilities.

“Those to me carry weight, rather than the recreational use, which is being voted on today,” Brugger said.

Councilman Dennis Scott said the zoning amendment gives the ban enforcement “legs,” while Mayor Geri McCaleb said she doesn’t want Grand Haven to become a “mecca” for marijuana while surrounding municipalities enforce bans.

“We need to do whatever we can to safeguard our city,” the mayor said.

Rebecca Neil, a wellness practitioner and Grand Haven resident, asked the city to consider allowing medical facilities. She said she’s interested in opening a dispensary, and uses medical marijuana to treat epilepsy. 

Jamie Cooper, owner of the Grand Haven-based industry marketing company Cannabiz Connection, joined Neil in calling on the council to consider medical marijuana. She said medical users currently use the black market, where a majority of marijuana products are not tested or regulated.

“Starting the conversation about medical would be in the city’s best interest at this point, and it would be a good way to get their feet wet, as the state puts together the new laws and regulations for adult-use cannabis,” Cooper said. “With more than 3,000 (Grand Haven residents) voting in favor of Prop 1, this is the least the city could do for its constituents.”

If the city doesn’t consider allowing licensed facilities, Cooper said she hopes to kick off a petition to get the issue on this November’s ballot. The endeavor would require collecting signatures from 5 percent of those who voted for the governor in November 2018, which she said is less than 300.

Cooper said she helped spearhead a similar strategy in Grand Rapids, where recreational facilities will also be allowed.

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