Farmington Hills council to consider marijuana work group

Farmington Hills city council members agreed Monday to get more information about creating a work group to study marijuana ordinances, but not everyone was on board.

Officials held the third in a series of study sessions on the topic, with city attorney Steve Joppich providing deep background information on Michigan’s medical and recreational marijuana laws. The state decriminalized medical marijuana in 2008 and recreational marijuana in 2018.

Farmington Hills officials decided to not allow marijuana-related businesses, but left the issue open for study and discussion.

Both voter-driven initiatives have prompted a slew of litigation to clarify the laws. Debani Gordon, an associate attorney with Joppich’s law firm, shared her research into those court cases during Monday’s Zoom meeting.

Gordon said the list would give officials a good idea of how to avoid legal challenges if the city decided to opt in. Asked whether she saw a trend in the cases, she mentioned one issue: “challenges to communities not following their ordinances.”

“Issues are coming about when the city’s going about that process and not doing what they said they would do,” she said.

Steps in the process

If council members decide to opt in, Joppich recommended developing zoning ordinances in line with the licensing ordinance, “so it’s clear where the different types of establishments are permitted in the city.”

The law isn’t clear, he said, about whether the city could require a license applicant to be a Farmington Hills resident or have a prior license, or whether the “opt in” could include only certain types of businesses.

Council members had discussed meeting with industry representatives, but Joppich warned that could eventually create the appearance of favoritism.

“I know that wouldn’t be the case, but the concern is, that might be the appearance to the other (license) applicants,” he said.

Joppich suggested a work group similar to one conducted by the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency. He said the meeting could be open to whoever wanted to attend and advised “a little detachment” with staff organizing and hosting it.

Council member Valerie Knol said she was not in favor of moving forward at all.

“This is an issue I don’t think the city should be pursuing now,” she said. “I think we’re way too early in the process… This is a huge undertaking for city staff to lead these work groups. We’ve got a lot of other issues right now, and this is not a top issue for me.”

She added that the study sessions have been very beneficial.

Council member Mike Bridges said the study groups weren’t about making decisions, but about getting citizen input “as to whether they think Farmington Hills should proceed on these issues.”

“I’m hearing from a lot of citizens who want us to start to proceed with this,” Mayor Vicki Barnett said. “As the economy changes, and we’re going to have a lot of empty buildings… This is probably, in my opinion, the best time to start to look at this if we’re going to start to look at rezoning changes for the post-pandemic period.”

If the federal government legalizes marijuana, council member Ken Massey pointed out, “all bets are off.” He was also concerned about law enforcement and safety challenges to the community.

“There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be sorted out here,” he said.

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