Three Rivers City Commission to get legal opinion on potential marijuana ordinance

The Three Rivers City Commission discussed the possibility Tuesday of an amendment to the city code that would allow marijuana facilities within city limits as special exception uses, and presenting those changes to the citizens of Three Rivers on a future ballot. Ultimately commissoners tabled the issue until its next meeting where City Attorney J. Patrick O’Malley is expected to present a legal opinion on how exactly the commission would do that.

The addition to the city code and proposed ordinance language are intended to allow for consideration of marijuana establishments to operate in industrial and business zoning districts (including industrial parks), according to a staff report from the Three Rivers Planning Commission.

In September 2020 commissioners voted 5-2 to draft marijuana ordinance language for the first available ballot in 2021. The vote followed a lawsuit filed in late August 2020 by petitioners seeking to place a measure on last November’s ballot authorizing a set number of marijuana retail businesses inside the city. The petitioners’ group, Jobs for Michigan Communities (JMC), filed two petitions in late July, which were subsequently rejected by City Clerk Melissa Bliss on behalf of the city’s Board of Election Commissioners on August 7. 

Circuit Court Judge Paul Stutesman issued a decision shortly thereafter ruling the petition, submitted by Jobs for Michigan Communities (JMC), did not conform to a state statute that dictates proper size and language. 

On Tuesday, O’Malley said one way the commission could handle the issue is to adopt an ordinance and present the ordinance to citizens to repeal or uphold the measure. He said the city can’t legally schedule “what amounts to an initiative,” and advised the commission wait until he renders a legal opinion before taking action.

Downtown resident Justin Mitchell asked the commission how the proposed ordinance would affect downtown Three Rivers, as he believes “downtown would not be the best place for one of these establishments.”

“There’s already kind of a parking issue here and I’m just wondering if a lot of these establishments bring people who come, stay for a little bit, and leave, and don’t necessarily frequent any other businesses, is there any exception for the downtown area for that?” Mitchell asked.

Mayor Tom Lowry said there wasn’t an exception within the ordinance pertaining to downtown, as two of the five marijuana facilities permitted by the state could be established downtown including a marijuana retailer and marijuana safety compliance facility.

“I would be against anything, personally, that would allow for downtown to be a possibility but that’s just my opinion,” Mitchell said.

In other business…

•The commission declared a local state of emergency to continue meeting virtually. A state law, which recently expired, previously gave local governments the ability to conduct meetings virtually on video conferencing platforms like Zoom due to the pandemic. Following the law’s expiration commissioners had to approve the declaration in order to continue meeting virtually. Lowry said commissioners will continue to meet online for a least the next month or so.

Alek Haak-Frost is executive editor of Watershed Voice.