HOUGHTON — Recreational marijuana retailers still are not allowed in Houghton, but an ordinance approved Wednesday will regulate where they could go.
In a 4-3 vote, the Houghton City Council approved the ordinance, which imposes similar restrictions on location to the ones on medical marijuana. The limits — such as being 1,000 feet away from schools, churches, or residential areas — effectively limit to an area along Razorback Drive.
It also stipulates only one recreational marijuana retailer can operate in the city. That destructiveness had come under fire during public comments of previous hearings on the ordinance.
The ordinance will take effect after 10 days.
The motion originally proposed for Wednesday would have sent the ordinance back to the Planning Commission to remove the one-retailer limit. The move back to the Planning Commission had been suggested by one of the council members, City Manager Eric Waara said in the memorandum.
Councilor Mike Needham motioned instead for a vote to approve the ordinance as is. Needham had cast the lone vote against delaying votes on marijuana ordinances at the council’s previous regular meeting in March. At that meeting, he noted the 16 months that had passed since voters approved recreational marijuana in 2018.
Mayor Pro Tem Robert Megowen said he was concerned about possible legal action from people who felt they had been unfairly denied a chance at opening a retailer. Councilor Buck Foltz asked if the criteria was clear for how a license would be awarded.
“It was certainly my hope that it was going to be just one so we wouldn’t end up with the difficulty of deciding who, how and when,” he said.
Needham said the ordinance can be revisited later.
“This doesn’t prevent us from deciding as we go forward to change and add more,” he said. “It just gets the ball rolling.”
Councilors Dan Salo, Rachel Lankton, Needham and Foltz voted in favor of the amendment. Mayor Bob Backon, Councilor John Sullivan and Megowen voted against.
Waara said Friday the ordinance would likely be amended in the future to allow for more licenses. The ordinance had originally been written before the state had finalized licensing procedures.
“I think having a little bit of security knowing the state has a licensing procedure in place may make it a little easier to have it more open than one,” he said.
Others previously discussed by the council will be on the May 13 agenda, Waara said. Houghton’s city attorney had recommended the ordinance passed Wednesday be in place before it passed any other recreational marijuana ordinances.
“That does not mean you’re compelled to opt in or that you’re going to,” Waara said Thursday. “That one passed, so I would presume that the opt-in would be a passing vote as well.”
One is the opt-in ordinance, which would allow recreational marijuana retailers in the city. The ordinance would still bar growers, processors, safety compliance facilities, secure transports or microbusinesses.
Another ordinance would modify the medical marijuana ordinance to allow permitted medical marijuana facilities to share retail space with a recreational marijuana retailer. Medical and recreational products would need to be separated and clearly labeled to avoid confusion. Only people 21 or older would be allowed on site.
Northern Specialty Health, the only medical marijuana dispensary in the city, has indicated it would like to pursue recreational sales as well.
Houghton passed an opt-out ordinance in February 2019. City officials cited concerns over allowing sales before the state worked out its regulations.
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