City Council and Planning Commission held a joint meeting on Tuesday, January 22 to begin discussion on regulatory and zoning on the matter of retail recreational marijuana establishments. As a result of a non-vote last fall, the City of Lowell essentially opted in, allowing recreational retail locations. The city will move forward with allowing businesses to open with a special land use permit, which will come before Planning Commission before a recommendation to and final approval is given by City Council.
Establishing Rules and Regulations
During the meeting, also attended by City Attorney Dick Wendt and Jessica Wood who has experience working with municipalities allowing medical and now recreational retail locations, discussion surrounded ideas, suggestions, and determinations which would be considered as regulations and zoning efforts are put into place.
One of the first tasks for City Council to take on is defining “public places”. The use of marijuana is not allowed in “public places” and as a way to be proactive, Council will either amend the current ordinance dealing with alcohol consumption or create a new one. City parks and city owned property are examples of places where the use of marijuana would be prohibited.
The City will be required to allow at least one of each of the six types of retail establishments, however market demand will likely influence whether a retailer in each category will be interested in a Lowell location. Both City Manager Mike Burns and Police Chief Steve Bukala mentioned they receive multiple calls per week asking about properties within city limits where a retail business has potential of opening, including the old Masonic building on Chatham and the property with silos next to New Union Brewery.
Both locations are currently questionable as being outside of the allowance in proximity to a school with the old St. Mary’s School building in the area and recently purchased by Lowell Area Schools to be used by Curiosity Corner Preschool. While law does not dictate that preschools are included, both boards agreed that Lowell will include locations where younger students are taught. The two groups also discussed whether the distance a recreational marijuana business should be more than 500 or 1,000 feet away from a school. Starting with the larger number with the possibility of evaluating and making a change in the future seemed to be the consensus.
A process for those looking to open a retail establishment to apply for a special use permit will also need to be hashed out. The steps could include applicants filling out a checklist and then entering a lottery to ensure a fair selection method. A maximum number of establishments which will be allowed was discussed with some numbers (6, 10, 12, 15) thrown out without landing on anything specific. The issue of whether or not an open spot would need to be left open should not all six types of establishments have applications submitted was also questioned and will have to be defined.
There could be complications as far as enforcement is concerned. While consumption of marijuana is permitted in an individual’s home, driving while under the influence is not. Bukala mentioned Kent County was a test county in the state for a cotton swab method of showing levels of marijuana in a person’s system. He went on to say he suspects a wider test field in coming months with something to aid officers coming at some point in the future.
Odor was also brought up as a concern with retail establishments, but keeping smells in check are already covered by city ordinance and can also be included as a provision for special land use approval.
The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) has until November of this year to establish it’s requirements and process for businesses to obtain a license through the state. It’s anticipated that LARA will take the entire time before releasing information.
While LARA works on its process, Lowell will also work on theirs in order to have things in place once the state has a plan. City Council will work on regulations which include the maximum number of establishments allowed, yearly application fee, and potential ordinance changes. The Planning Commission will begin discussing zoning issues at their February meeting. The first order of business will be to establish where within city limits these retail businesses are allowed to open.