EGR deadlocked on next step for pot sales rules

Marijuana in MI

EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The East Grand Rapids City Commission did not reach a decision on what will happen with the ordinance banning marijuana businesses in the city that is set to expire in June.

The commission had a pair of tie votes at Monday evening’s meeting, though it was clear that the city won’t be allowing marijuana businesses to set up shop in East Grand Rapids anytime soon.

Commissioners took up discussion of the ordinance for the majority of its regularly scheduled meeting at city hall. City leaders narrowed what to do with ordinance down to two options — extend the ban on marijuana business indefinitely or continue the moratorium for another year, forcing the commission to revisit the topic before June of 2021. Each option garnered a tie vote, so both of the measures failed.

Commissioner Claudine Duncan was out of town and not present at the meeting, so if commissioners hold their positions when the matter comes up again, she may cast the deciding vote.

The city commission meeting in East Grand Rapids. (March 2, 2020)

The discussion will take place again on March 16 at 6 p.m. during the city commission meeting. The public will again have the chance to weigh in as commissioners deliberate, East Grand Rapids Mayor Katie Favale said.

Four people spoke during public comment on the topic Monday. Three of the speakers opposed marijuana sales while one person spoke in favor.

“Why would we open a drug shop, and (marijuana) is a drug, right in the midst of our community?,” Karen Machiorlatti-Waldron, a longtime East Grand Rapids resident asked commissioners.

“Why would you screw up one of the best things that we have?,” Karla Anderson, another East Grand Rapids resident said. “Last time I knew, (selling marijuana) was a felony. I don’t care what Michigan law you’re quoting.”

East Grand Rapids resident Chris Knape encouraged commissioners to welcome the industry.

“I’m here because I think we have an opportunity to be a model community for destigmatizing cannabis,” Knape said. “Gaslight Village (EGR’s business district) is not currently a drug-free zone. We as a community have elected to allow a restaurant and bar to set up literally outside the doors to our high school.”

The primary reason commissioners cited for opposing marijuana sales in the city is because the property zoned for commercial use in the city almost entirely lies within 1,000 feet of a school. The marijuana legislation currently on the books in Michigan calls for a 1,000-foot marijuana sales buffer zone around schools.

Municipalities can choose to relax those restrictions, though East Grand Rapids leaders said they weren’t aware of any in Michigan that have chosen to do so.

“I’m not sure that… I want this community to be the culture war leader on that point,” Commissioner Bryan Walters said at the meeting.

The city has relaxed similar rules against alcohol sales near schools. But East Grand Rapids Mayor Katie Favale said that’s different.

“I don’t consider it a double standard. I think that people are being cautionary,” Favale told News 8, citing the newness of the marijuana legislation in Michigan.

She said she did not feel the commission’s stance on the matter was contrary to the will of the voters in East Grand Rapids where 60% of the electorate voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana.

“I don’t believe it flies in the face because people voted for many reasons,” Favale said. “I don’t know that the 60% necessarily voted to see a dispensary in East. That wasn’t what the vote was.”

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