By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
The marijuana ordinance is still in limbo. In a 3-2 vote, Oxford Village Council extended the prohibition on marijuana establishments another six months to Oct. 31, 2021. The prohibition had been set to expire April 30.
The vote at the Feb. 9 council meeting came two weeks after the council held a special town hall on its draft Adult Use Marijuana ordinance that would allow recreational marijuana businesses in the I-1 Industrial District, mostly along Glaspie St. and Industrial Drive.
The temporary prohibition is meant to buy the village time while it finishes the adult use ordinance. This is the fourth time it has been extended since the council and planning commission began working on the ordinance two years ago.
Given the timeline of the expiration at the end of April, the council had to make a decision whether to either extend or repeal the sunset provision, or pass the adult use ordinance as-is. Considering the feedback gathered and questions raised at the town hall, the council is in agreement that the ordinance is not ready for approval. Some members think it is closer than others, however.
Village President Kelsey Cooke made a motion to amend Ordinance No. 411: Prohibition of Marihuana Establishments by removing Section 6: Repeal and Sunset Provision. That would leave it as a simple opt-out ordinance, making the prohibition indefinite, without an expiration date.
“My primary concern right now is timing and the number of times we’ve moved the sunset back, and that’s why I’m recommending we just remove it,” Cooke reasoned. “I don’t think we need to keep putting deadlines on ourselves. I think we are close, but I don’t think another six months is going to work.”
Cooke’s motion to remove the sunset provision failed 2-3, with Cooke and Bourgeau voting yes, and Helmuth, Kemp and Ross voting no.
“I think we’re close,” said Councilmember Maureen Helmuth, who suggested six months would be enough time.
Councilmember Allison Kemp said the original intent of the sunset clause was to make sure the ordinance doesn’t get shelved. “It means we are actively working on this versus just setting it aside,” she said.
Councilmember Ashley Ross said there are some issues that need addressing, but the ordinance is close to being ready for a yay or nay vote. “I do not want us to just sit on this. I think we owe it to the majority of voters that said to decriminalize marijuana in our village to make a choice and not continue this on in perpetuity, which I don’t think we are, but six to nine months additional work would get us well where we need to be to have our staff ready and to have an ordinance ready.”
After Cooke’s motion failed, Helmuth made the motion to extend the sunset to Oct. 31. Councilmember Lori Bourgeau did not think six months was enough time. “(Our residents) don’t want us to keep having this conversation every four months. They don’t want it in limbo so many times. I will support a sunset, but I don’t think six months is near enough time based on everything that’s come up in the recent meetings.”
Bourgeau offered a friendly amendment to the motion to make the expiration Dec. 31, 2021. Helmuth declined the amendment, saying it doesn’t take much time to make another extension if they need to. The motion passed 3-2, with Helmuth, Kemp and Ross voting yes, and Cooke and Bourgeau voting no.
Village Attorney Bob Davis said they should be able to sustain any legal challenges from extending the sunset again, as long as they can demonstrate they are still diligently working on the ordinance.
None of the councilmembers are outright against eventually passing an ordinance. Bourgeau’s concerns are about the village administration’s capacity to handle the application process and the inability to limit the number of marijuana businesses in the ordinance. “It has nothing to do with the stigma, or that sort of thing. Because it is legal in the state. In my opinion, that’s not really what we need to be looking at here is whether it’s a moral business or things of that sort. It’s a legal business.”
Cooke said she was having trouble seeing how the ordinance would benefit the residents, and she will continue exploring that. “Personally I have nothing against marijuana/cannabis industry in general. I don’t see a lot of the problems that some of the residents expressed concerns to us about, necessarily, but my mind is always into risk analysis so I’m also coming at it from that perspective too. So even though my stance was to repeal the sunset provision and give us as much time as we need to consider it more, I am definitely committed to continue working on it.”