SOUTH HAVEN — Let the voters decide.
That’s the consensus of South Haven City Council members who have decided to let local residents determine whether to ban recreational marijuana businesses within city limits.
Council members voted 6-1 on Monday to put a citizen-initiated ordinance on the November ballot. If approved, no recreational cannabis retail shops, grow operations, processing and distribution facilities, or testing plants would be allowed to locate in South Haven.
The proposed ordinance made it to the council’s hands on Monday courtesy of the group Concerned Citizens of South Haven, which gathered enough signatures – 128 – on a petition to force the council to make a decision. Council members had several options – approve the ordinance, reject it, or send the measure to voters.
The majority thought the third option best.
“For us to say we will accept the petition and not go to the public, I think that’s wrong,” said council member Joe Reeser. “So far, 128 people signed a petition. There’s over 1,000 voting residents in this town. We would only be representing those 128 people if we were to vote on it tonight.”
Council members also pointed out the planning commission has spent the last six months crafting an ordinance designating which medical and recreational cannabis-related businesses could locate in town, and where they could set up shop.
The proposed ordinance is now in front of the city council, which had planned to consider it either this month or in September.
Now it looks like the council will be waiting to see what voters decide in November.
One business owner who would like to start a cannabis testing lab in town expressed his frustration regarding the petition and the city council’s decision in February to opt out of the new state law legalizing recreational marijuana businesses, while studying whether to allow them or not.
“You’ve already hindered us from expanding,” said Scott Wall, president of New Age Laboratories. New Age Laboratories tests agricultural products throughout Southwest Michigan. Wall wants to add cannabis testing by obtaining a safety compliance license from the state, but can’t because the city has temporarily banned recreational marijuana businesses.
“The fact we have delayed this has cost me a significant amount of money,” Wall said. “It’s stopped me from being able to apply for a safety compliance license.”
Mayor Scott Smith is sympathetic to Wall’s position.
“It is my hope we get the laboratory piece approved. Sooner rather than later,” Smith said, regarding the five types of cannabis-related businesses that could potentially locate in South Haven. “You’re a business losing revenue.”
Municipalities throughout Michigan have until the end of this year to decide whether to allow or ban recreational marijuana businesses. Those that don’t make a decision will automatically opt in to the new law.
If South Haven city voters turn down the proposed ordinance, the city council could conceivably lift the temporary ban and allow businesses to locate in town. However, if voters approve the ordinance, the city would have to wait at least a year before determining whether to revisit the issue of whether to allow marijuana facilities, according to City Attorney Nick Curcio.
“If passed the ordinance would have to be in place for at least a year, per city charter,” he said.
Another interesting caveat is that the citizen-led proposed ordinance only addresses recreational marijuana businesses, not medical marijuana businesses.