When Will Pot Sales Begin In TC?
By Beth Milligan | Dec. 3, 2019
Recreational marijuana sales are likely still several months out in Traverse City after commissioners Monday agreed to extend the city’s opt-out period – though commissioners emphasized their commitment to allowing sales as soon as the city can finalize rules regulating where and how retail stores will operate. In the meantime, multiple medical dispensaries are preparing to open their doors locally.
Commissioners Monday unanimously voted to extend Traverse City’s moratorium on recreational pot retail stores for up to six more months to allow an ad hoc committee of staff and commissioners to finish writing rules. Commissioner Amy Shamroe, who sits on the ad hoc committee, said that when voters legalized recreational pot in Michigan in 2018, issues related to how sales would actually work were unaddressed and are now being hammered out by state and local leaders.
“It’s also very vague in how it was passed, so there’s a lot of zoning issues we’re looking at,” she said. “There’s a lot of gray and open areas that surprisingly maybe weren’t highlighted during the campaign for legalization…it’s not that we’re against it, or dragging our feet. It’s just a lot to dig through.”
Other commissioners and staff members serving on the ad hoc, which has been meeting regularly since late summer, confirmed the complexity of writing a whole new rule system for recreational marijuana sales. According to City Clerk Benjamin Marentette, issues the group is weighing include whether to cap the total number of retail stores in Traverse City, where such stores can be located, whether an owner can co-locate medical and recreational sales at the same store, and if the city will consider multiple permit applications for the same property.
“We’ve had a general consensus there should be a limit on the number of establishments, but how many hasn’t been decided yet,” Marentette says. “The whole question on co-location is under consideration as well, but it’s an ongoing discussion.” City leaders went through a similar process in writing rules for medical marijuana sales, eventually allowing 13 dispensaries in the city – though banning them in some areas, such as downtown. Those permits were distributed by a lottery system, but recreational marijuana permits must be distributed based on “merit.” That throws another wrench into the process, says Marentette, since the city needs to be careful in determining how applications will be reviewed, ranked, and approved to avoid appearing discriminatory or facing lawsuits from rejected applicants.
“Applicants have to go through a competitive process, so they have to be assessed based on their merits,” he says. “What those merits are and who ranks how well they’re meeting those merits is pretty complicated. We’re considering even the possibility of having third parties that would rate them, like an independent board. It’s entirely up to each city (how the merit system works)…because of the (potential legal liability), we’re trying to move through the process expeditiously but carefully.”
Commissioner Brian McGillivary, who chairs the ad hoc committee, acknowledged that cities like Ann Arbor have already established rules and begun recreational sales, with the first historic day of legal weed sales taking place Sunday downstate. But McGillivary reiterated how “time-consuming and complicated” it is for most municipalities to work through the issues related to launching a new industry. “I’ve heard people say, ‘Why can’t you just copy what Ann Arbor does?’” McGillivary said. “Ann Arbor is a city of 121,000 people, and they have a lot bigger resources and deeper pockets than we do…there’s a lot to go through, and it’s going to take some time.” Without extending its moratorium Monday, Traverse City would have automatically been “opted in” to recreational sales, meaning business owners could start immediately applying to the state for permits and not have to follow any city zoning rules or other guidelines on the process, Marentette says.
Though city residents won’t be able to purchase pot recreationally until the new rules are implemented, they can still legally consume it – and can also purchase medical marijuana if approved to do so, with several dispensaries preparing to open their doors. Marentette says WL Green Ventures – which operates under the name The Cured Leaf at 707 South Garfield Avenue (pictured) – is now open and approved to operate. The company’s website outlines its available products – which includes edibles, tinctures, and topical creams, in addition to smoking products – and has a FAQ on what type of customers are allowed to shop at the store and how to obtain a medical marijuana card. Redbud Roots, which is opening multiple Michigan locations, will also open a provisioning center in January at 6669 East M-72 in Acme Township, according to the company’s website.
Marentette say the 12 other applicants who were approved to launch medical dispensaries within Traverse City have all been granted extensions past their November 6 deadline, with many planning to open in the coming weeks or months. “A lot of (the delays) have to do with construction scheduling,” he says. “Looking back, we were probably too optimistic to expect people to get their buildings remodeled or totally constructed in a six-month period.”
Recreational sales could also start sooner than six months out if ad hoc committee members can finish an ordinance draft and bring it to commissioners for approval – a scenario Marentette believes is possible in late winter or early spring. City Manager Marty Colburn encouraged public patience in the meantime. “The ad hoc committee has been working very diligently on this,” he said. “I will state that it’s my understanding that the vast majority of municipalities that have taken action have actually opted out. So I would suggest that people just have a little patience. Allow the ad hoc committee to do their job, and it’ll be brought forward back to the city commission in due time.”