Ypsilanti Township has joined over 300 communities in Michigan that have opted out of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act. That’s the new law that will allow recreational marijuana dispensaries to operate across the state. 89.1 WEMU’s Jorge Avellan tells us why the township took this action and if it’s permanent.
Ypsilanti Township’s Board of Trustees approved an ordinance that puts a temporary hold on issuing licenses for recreational marijuana businesses. They made that decision because the State of Michigan has not established rules or guidelines for how those businesses will be enforced. State officials are expected to issue emergency rules in June or July of this year.
But that concerns the Board of Trustees because individuals interested in applying for a recreational marijuana business license can do so 90 days after the rules are released.
Township attorney Doug Winters says that’s not enough time for the township to approve a zoning ordinance for those businesses.
"Oh, absolutely. It will take more than 90 days. You have public hearings, you have to have publications. There’s a Michigan Zoning Enabling Act that details how you go about adopting zoning ordinances. You can talk to any community in this state about zoning and to create a new zoning ordinance right now takes two readings at the township board level. They have to publish accordance with the law regulations. You just can’t do all of this. And it’s difficult to do that even if you know what the rules are. To make a zoning amendment on an existing ordinance could take more than 90 days," said Winters.
But Ypsilanti Township Board Trustee Jimmie Wilson, Jr. disagrees. He was the only one on the board who voted against placing a temporary hold on issuing licenses. Initially, he was in favor of it, but he changed his mind after receiving calls from constituents who reminded him that 68% of the voters in Washtenaw County helped legalize recreational marijuana last November. He says the township may also miss out on economic development projects.
"The early licensees will got to municipalities that do not have a ban. And so municipalities that do have this ban are not going to get some of the benefits financially from those businesses. So that’s kind of a negative, that’s a negative to whatever municipality has a ban," said Trustee Wilson.
The temporary hold is set to expire on June 30th of 2020. Township Supervisor Brenda Stumbo says there’s no need to rush on issuing licenses for action that could have a big impact on the community.
"I just really feel like it’s our obligation to protect the interest of our residents and our business owners. The largest investment everyone makes is in their home and their business. So to not allow opportunity to gather information from the State of Michigan on what the regulations are before we just say, let them go wherever, that is not the best way to represent our people," said Supervisor Stumbo.
Local activist Alex Thomas wants the township to issue licenses sooner rather than later. So, he started a petition after the township board placed the hold. Thomas hopes he collects enough signatures to place it on the November 2019 ballot with the goal of reversing the board’s decision.
"I don’t think that the arguments that the township is making are sincere because I know through personal interaction and familiarity with being in township boards, I think they just don’t want cannabis in the township. It’s all right to have those personal views, but 68% of the township already expressed how they feel. And those personal views shouldn’t override what you’ve been elected to uphold and execute," said Thomas.
The recreational marijuana ballot proposal that voters approved last November did include language that stated that local municipalities have the right to prohibit or limit the types and number of recreational marijuana businesses. Township Supervisor Stumbo says the Board of Trustees could’ve opt out altogether, but they didn’t.
"We’re doing what the State of Michigan allowed us to do. And that 69% of the people in our community voted for, and now we have opposition to doing that. I think it’s more about the money than it is actually for the community," said Supervisor Stumbo.
Board Trustee Jimmie Wilson, Jr. is also concerned that the board won’t give enough attention to the recreational marijuana issue during the year that licenses have been put on hold.
"I think that we should still have a vision from a township perspective, Board of Trustees, elected officials. We should still have a vision that we want and then talk that over with the residents, and then when the rules come out, we can adjust accordingly. I don't think we just have to sit and wait," said Trustee Wilson.
The township is considering creating a committee to explore in which direction they want to go in the future with this issue.
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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him firstname.lastname@example.org