Farmington marijuana facilities moratorium moves forward, with caveat

Farmington city council members on Monday approved the first reading of an ordinance that would “opt out” of allowing marijuana-related businesses, but added a provision to guarantee a future review.

If finalized on second reading, the ordinance would put Farmington among more than 400 cities, villages, and townships that have – at least initially – decided to prohibit facilities allowed under Michigan’s new recreational marijuana law: retailers, growers, processors, testing labs, and transporters.

During public comment, resident Sarah Davies said discussions among her neighbors centered around issues like potential tax revenue from the businesses, filling vacant storefronts, and creating jobs.

“I think it may bring in people who would shop here,” she added. “Why send them out of our community?” Davies also said residents should have a chance to weigh in on the issue.

City Manager David Murphy said officials could approve the ordinance and take another look at it after the legislature “gets its act together.” The state has until December to approve permitting rules for businesses. Citizens are already free to indulge in their homes, carry up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, grow up to 12 plants, and gift marijuana to friends and relatives.

“The recommendation is to opt out until things get straightened out at the legislative level,” Murphy said.

Why opt out now?

City Attorney Matt Zalewski said the risk in waiting is the time between state regulation approval and when the first business applies for a permit. Council member Joe LaRussa pointed out that state rules will first be posted for review; Zalewski said the review period is typically 30-60 days and crafting local rules may take some time.

Also, even if the state’s rules initially look like what officials want to see, “it may not turn out that way”.

LaRussa said the public may not understand that the city won’t be able to pick and choose the types of businesses it wants. The law states that municipalities “may completely prohibit or limit the number of marihuana establishments within its boundaries.”

That point may be in dispute; an April 1 Detroit Free Press article quotes John Fraser, a member of an attorneys’ work group examining the recreational market rules, saying cities “have the authority to limit the types of facilities, not just the number.” He said the law was intended to have flexibility so that officials could allow businesses that best fit the community.

No “pot for potholes”

Council member Sara Bowman said she first thought allowing marijuana businesses could turn into a “pot for potholes” deal, but has since learned that those revenues may not materialize. She also mentioned concerns shared by Public Safety Director Frank Demers about the social and public safety consequences of legalization in Colorado.

LaRussa said, based on projections in a Detroit Free Press article, and given the number of cities that will share revenue, Farmington might get as little as $27,000.

Council member Bill Galvin said he “can’t in good faith support a business that can’t open a bank account.” Because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, many financial institutions will not allow those business owners to open accounts.

The Detroit News reported in February that some banks are working with retailers, and the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association hopes to expand access. The federal government is also considering changes that would allow financial institutions to serve the industry.

’Family-friendly’

For Mayor Steven Schneemann, the decision came down to “opt out” recommendations from the city manager, city attorney, and public safety director, along with protecting the city’s reputation.

“Farmington has an image of a family-friendly community, one in which parents don’t have to protect their children or shield them from certain spaces,” he said. “I don’t see any compelling arguments for why we wouldn’t opt out.”

In their motion, officials directed staff and the city attorney to recommend a period of time for council to review the ordinance after the state rules are published. That language would be added to the ordinance during the second reading at a future council meeting.