Colon Village Debates Merits of Medical Marijuana Permitting Process

The Colon Village Council continued an ongoing conversation on Tuesday about a proposed ordinance that would create a permitting process for medical marijuana businesses. Village Trustee Edward LeBoeuf provided details and answered other trustees’ questions about the proposed ordinance language. 

LeBoeuf said the ordinance language was compiled from “several different ordinances already in existence for medical marijuana,” including licensing procedures from the ordinance in Chesaning, which is in Saginaw County. He said there are still some minor items to clean up, such as alphabetization of definitions.

One major feature of the ordinance is that it will not specify a cap on the number of permits the village will issue. Instead, if passed, the ordinance would provide the council ultimate right of refusal to any marijuana business by requiring applicants to seek a special use zoning permit. By law, special use applications must go before the Planning Commission and the Village Council for review and approval. 

Concurrent with the proposed marijuana ordinance, the Village is also updating its zoning code. Under the changes, the code would require medical marijuana businesses to locate outside of any residential areas, and no less than 500 feet from schools and churches. Under the marijuana ordinance, in the event of a new permit application, the village would have to notify property owners within 300 feet prior to any hearings for approval.

There are five possible business types under the ordinance’s language, including growers, transporters, processors, compliance facilities and provisioning centers. LeBoeuf said there are “several different levels of grower,” and only provisioning centers would be open to the public. Each business type would require its own license, although LeBoeuf said some of the licenses are “stackable.” If an applicant were to seek more than one license type at a time, the ordinance specifies which ones can and cannot be combined.

The process would begin with an application for a license through the Village. Each license application would be charged a fee, not to exceed a $5,000 cap set by the state. From there, the application would be subject to a variety of review procedures, including approval by the Planning Commission and the Village Council. Only after completion of the local process would the business be eligible to pursue additional licensing and permitting requirements at the state level.

Once opened, LeBoeuf described how the separate business types would work together. Once a grower harvests a crop, he said, “a state licensed transporter would move the marijuana. A processor would handle the marijuana and turn it into a usable form, and then it would be sent to a compliance facility with a testing lab to make sure it doesn’t have, you know chemical pesticides or, or bugs, or mold, or anything like that.”

LeBoeuf said, “They would also test the purity, so that way they know how much marijuana, or marijuana concentrate, you would be getting from that crop. But then, from there, it would go to a provisioning center, in which case it goes to the consumer.”

During Tuesday’s discussion, one trustee, Marilyn McManus, voiced opposition to the proposed ordinance. “I know that the comment has been made by someone that this is just the first step, and then you will go for the recreational, and I guess you know where I stand on this. I think it’s a very poor message to be sending to our youth and I don’t think that our community needs to have something like this,” she said. McManus also observed that Federal law still prohibits the growth, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana.

In response, LeBoeuf said, “Well, it’s not going to go away. It’s going to stay. This industry is going to continue to grow. As it is right now, you know, there are farmers planting fields and fields full of a plant that was previously, you know, illegal in 2018, hemp. And that’s literally being just grown, you know, like any other crop. This industry is going to continue to expand. Now, we can either be part of a growing industry, or we can, you know, not.”

LeBoeuf also contrasted marijuana’s harmful effects to those of alcohol. “We have five recreational alcohol facilities here,” he said. “And when it was brought up, that there’s going to be another liquor license issued in town, nobody batted an eye, and I mean, the statistics are there that alcohol is severely more dangerous than marijuana, and it is far more addictive.” 

McManus disagreed with LeBoef’s statement, and Trustee Tom Whitford asked Police Chief Mark Brinkert for his opinion on the ordinance’s proposed language. Brinkert was familiar with the language, and said, “As I spoke at the meetings, I believe this is the best possible ordinance we can come up with.”

Citing the specific provisions that limit where businesses can locate, Brinkert said, “The people that are going to be affected by it within 300 feet will have an opportunity to come and voice their opinion whether they’re for it or not. It is just not a blanket, ‘hey, we’ve got 12 licenses, this is what you’re going to do.’ People are going to have to work in order to achieve a license.”

Village President Ruthann Brinker said the ordinance would give the village some leverage in future conversations about marijuana, including recreational use and distribution. “We still want to keep control of this somewhat. I think with an ordinance like this, that still gives us come control, because at some point, if it goes on the ballot or something else, we’re going to lose control,” she said.

LeBoeuf said the ordinance does not guarantee a license, and still gives the council ultimate decision-making power. “Basically, what it says is, it says, yes, you have the right to come to our community and apply for a license. We can’t guarantee that you’re going to get a license,” he said.

Because the Village’s attorney has not yet reviewed the proposed ordinance language, and because it must first undergo a formal public hearing, the council voted to table the discussion.

Dave Vago is a writer and columnist for Watershed Voice. A Philadelphia native with roots in Three Rivers, Vago is a planning consultant to history and community development organizations and is the former Executive Director of the Three Rivers DDA/Main Street program.