By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Over 70 participants joined Oxford Village’s nearly three-hour virtual town hall on its marijuana draft ordinance the evening of Jan. 26. About 18 members of the public made comments or asked questions during the meeting. Opinions were mixed for and against, with a portion expressing neutral or tentative support, but with concerns.
The proposed Adult Use Recreational Marijuana ordinance would allow and regulate recreational marijuana businesses in the village’s I-1 Industrial Zoning District, mostly along Glaspie St. and Industrial Drive.
No action was taken at the public hearing, but council must soon make a decision. The clock is ticking as a temporary prohibition of marijuana establishments with a sunset clause expires April 30, 2021.
Any amendment to an ordinance takes two readings to go into effect. Those readings would be at the February and March meetings. Then it would need to be posted as a public notice for 30 days, which would end in mid-April, only a few weeks before the deadline. Given that timeline, Village Manager Joe Madore reminded the council, “something has to be decided” at the Feb. 9 council meeting.
The council has three options: either pass the ordinance, specifically opt out by enacting another ordinance prohibiting marijuana establishments, or extend the sunset date. Otherwise, if they do nothing, marijuana businesses will automatically be allowed and unregulated by the village after April.
The council has some reluctance about kicking the can down the road yet again since the sunset date has already been extended three times.
“I would encourage us as a council to address some of the things that have come up tonight and vote as soon as possible either way to make a decision instead of continuing to prolong the sunset clause,” said Councilmember Ashley Ross toward the end of the meeting.
Village President Kelsey Cooke said she still has unresolved concerns and unanswered questions about the ordinance. “I think that there’s no way that we’re going to be able to pass this ordinance in two weeks,” she said. “We have too much to talk about, we have too many questions. I’m not saying never, but I am saying not right now, for many reasons that were brought up tonight and just concerns that I’ve had.”
Village Attorney Bob Davis said he would prepare a memo detailing what he learned from the public hearing, and how he thinks that affects the ordinance.
The draft ordinance
“There’s been no rush to this ordinance,” Davis said at the top of the meeting. “Instead, there’s been a lot of thought and a lot of deliberate time-taking to see if we could get it right.”
The ordinance has been under development for two years since recreational marijuana was legalized in Michigan 2018. Since then, drafts have gone back and forth between the planning commission, village council and Davis. This is the second town hall on the topic. The first was in May 2019 and was poorly attended.
Davis said the ordinance scheme could be summarized in three words: time, place and manner. “We have tried to put forth a zoning ordinance that regulates the time and the place and the manner for these otherwise lawful uses that have come to be approved in the State of Michigan.”
The proposed ordinance provides a licensing process for applicants who are approved by the State of Michigan to then apply at the village office for a license. The six types of business licenses are: marijuana grower, processor, secure transporter, safety compliance facility, retailer and microbusiness.
Davis emphasized the fact the ordinance is for recreational, not medical, businesses. The Village formally opted out of allowing medical marijuana facilities in 2016. However, that does not prevent certified patients 21 and older from obtaining medical marijuana from these facilities, according to Village Planner Mario Ortega. It just means that patients 18 to 20 would not have access.
The latest draft has simplified the application process to be noncompetitive. “Our ordinance is not designed to define, or limit, or cap the number of licenses to be issued,” Davis said. This protects the village staff from picking “winners and losers based on various application criteria.”
Instead, they went with a simple zoning category. Any parcel in the I-1 zoning category that otherwise meets the licensing requirements may qualify for the use. According to Madore, there are about two dozen potential parcels in the I-1 District.
Each license will have a $5,000 application fee and a $5,000 annual renewal fee. The application requires site plan approval by the Planning Commission to ensure each requirement is met. Marijuana retailers and microbusinesses can only be open from 9a.m. to 9 p.m.
Access to minors
Ron Renaud, an Addison Township resident, asked what assurances could be made to prevent access to minors.
Davis said, “These licenses and these permits and these locations are extremely valuable, in my opinion from what I’ve seen, and the temptation to sell to a minor or to even have a questionable sale is very much thwarted by the state and local governance taking away the license and the right for a very profitable and somewhat valuable market.”
Madore agreed with Davis’s point. “(These businesses) have easy $1-2million dollars invested in their facility. I don’t think those owners are going to take any risk of losing that valuable license because someone wanted to sell $200 of product out the back door.”
Other members of the public spoke highly of the industry’s professionalism.
Renaud agreed that retailers might not sell to minors directly, but he also meant indirectly. “Say somebody comes in, buys some and they gift it to a child or someone that’s under age. How are you going to protect against that? How are you going to penalize for that?”
Davis said “that’s strictly a law enforcement issue. It’s the same with liquor.”
The $5,000 license and renewal fees would help defray the costs of stepping up enforcement on those types of issues, according to Davis.
State law allows private individuals 21 and older to use marijuana for recreational purposes. It also allows adults to cultivate on their premises up to 12 marijuana plants, at any one time, for personal use. This ordinance in no way changes that, Madore pointed out.
“I think, perhaps there’s going to be a lot more marijuana out there that’s under the radar that’s being grown by individuals,” he said. “I agree with you though, there’s a lot of diligence that needs to be made to make sure that youngsters don’t get it on either avenue.”
Later in the meeting, Oxford Township Supervisor Jack Curtis, who also sits on the Village Planning Commission, said, “We have to remember the fact that unregulated, allowed growing can occur right next door to the high school, it can occur next door to the elementary school, it can occur right next door to the middle school. Every school, church and playground has homes next to it and anybody can grow 12 marijuana plants right next to those facilities.”
Curtis estimated that on his street alone, “we could grow 100 pounds of this stuff and it would be untaxed, unregulated, and still available for all our children to look at, and possibly steal and take over. But here with these regulations, you’ve got it confined to an area, you’re watching it, the state’s watching it, and really it’s out of sight, almost, from the rest of the community.”
Councilmember Allison Kemp said, “As someone who grew up here, if I was one to partake, I could have figured out where to get it. So I do not believe us introducing a recreational marijuana ordinance is going to all of a sudden introduce something that cannot penetrate our boundaries.”
Village resident Evelyn Piotrowski was not convinced, and still hopes the village opts out. “I realize anyone can grow,” she said, “but there are unintended consequences. Some of those unintended consequences are really serious when it comes to accessibility to children. And this is not just retail sale, I’m talking about curious youngsters who find hidden stash. . . I just think we are sending the wrong message if local governments encourage the marijuana industry even though it’s legal.”
Piotrowski worries any potential tax revenues will not offset extra costs of police, fire, regulators and courts.
Folks in favor of the ordinance spoke optimistically of potential tax revenues and economic impact for the village.
“There’s a lot of money in this,” said Supervisor Curtis who noted how other towns have been revitalized through the revenue stream. “It’s a big industry and it’s waning fast as far as people getting the capture of these tax dollars generated from the revenues.”
The trouble is, extra tax revenues are only generated through a 10% excise tax on sales by retail establishments and microbusinesses. The other licenses types, such as a grower, would not generate any excise tax. So if only non-retail establishments go in, there will not be any extra tax revenue other than the normal property taxes.
Under the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (MRTMA), the Michigan Regulatory Agency uses the tax to cover administrative costs, then allocates a certain amount to state police and education. In the end, local municipalities only receive 1 percent of the tax.
“The state puts all of that revenue from retail locations into one pot, no pun intended,” Planner Ortega explained. “Then that money, if the state legislature authorizes it, annually, can be distributed to the municipalities based on the number of retail locations within the municipality. So the dollar amount isn’t necessarily based on the percentage of sales. I believe it is based on the number of retail locations located within the municipality.”
Davis said that’s why it is difficult to estimate what the revenue might be for the village, “because we don’t know what the market will bring under this ordinance in terms of how many retail centers versus growers versus transporters. We just don’t know. So it’s tough to give that answer.”
President Cooke said, “I don’t see the revenue stream. I need more information on that if that’s going to convince me into going to this direction. I see the legal risk as costing more than the potential revenue stream and that really scares me, for the village.”
She also noted it could lead to development of vacant lots, which would increase assed values. “In regard to property values, I’m sure commercial property values would skyrocket because this is a big business and these people have a lot of money.”
Besides tax revenues, the annual $5,000 licensing fee would benefit the village by going into the General Fund. “I don’t think it makes or breaks the bank, but it is fairly significant when you look at it per license,” Davis said. “It’s not going to drastically change the coffers of the village.”
Zoning and Buffers
In accordance with state law, marijuana facilities must be located at least 500 feet from the nearest lot line of any school or childcare center. In this case, there are no schools or childcare centers within 500 feet of the entire district. Previous versions of the ordinance also required a 500-foot buffer zone from public parks. The latest draft left the number of feet blank so it could be brought up for discussion. (A 100-foot buffer between other marijuana establishments was also deleted from the draft.)
“The law does allow you to create other buffers and other rules as long as they’re determined to be reasonable,” Davis said. He is concerned that in such a small area, a large park buffer might be a target for litigation.
“My personal opinion is that it should be 200 feet. My other opinion is that a buffer from a park is not expressly set forth in the statute,” he said.
There is no buffer from the nearby residential district, either. Residents in the area, particularly in the Scripter Park neighborhood, were concerned about the proximity of the industrial district to their homes.
“We purchased our home last year,” said Nicole Pelletier. “If I would have known in advance this is something we were going to be thinking about in the village, I wouldn’t have purchased my home . . . and it being so close to my home is a concern.”
Oxford Police Chief Mike Solwold spoke as both a resident and chief of police. “I am opposed to any of these facilities. I think it’s kind of crammed in between residential areas and the little less than two square miles that we do have in the village. I just think that there’s other larger areas that would be able to accommodate this better than I think the village can.”
Councilmember Lori Borgeau was concerned that the ordinance does not limit the number of businesses, because there could be a lot of money coming in to purchase the properties, and the village might lose other businesses.
Cooke agreed that a “marijuana row” was a real risk.
Kelly Arkles, who was recently appointed to the Planning Commission, but was not involved in developing the ordinance, expressed another concern about the district’s proximity to residences and Scripter Park: the possibility of air, water or even light pollution.
“What assurances do we have about having any negative environmental impact on our community? This being said, that (district) is industrial, but it’s still bordering so closely in proximity to residential, the park, our water supply. And do we have the resources available to be able to monitor and mitigate anything that should happen?”
Davis said the ordinance briefly addresses waste water and defers to the village engineer on that issue. “We could probably bolster that section up a little bit, in response to your comments,” he said.
Councilmember Maureen Helmuth, who also sits on the Planning Commission, is in favor of passing the ordinance. “If the use is legal, you should try to find a place to put it,” she said.
“I think if we can find a place to put them that satisfies the Planning Commission, the environmental questions, and the safety questions, then it’s something we need to do.”
Folks can read the full text of the proposed ordinance, review the Permitted Parcel map and submit additional comments on the homepage of the village website, thevillageofoxford.org.