“I really want you to understand the gravity of what we’re deciding on,” Commissioner Cunningham said.
KALAMAZOO, MI (WKZO AM/FM) — Leader of the City of Kalamazoo continued their discussion of the proposed ordinance that would allow the sales of recreational marijuana within city limits.
During a virtual meeting held over Zoom Monday night, leaders examined more facets of the plan, including zoning laws, social equity requirements, and the different kinds of licenses that could be issued.
This work session was one of several that were planned for in-person events, but had to be moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An official decision has not been voted on; it is only to provide feedback.
Previously, the Kalamazoo Planning Commission approved a first reading of the new zoning rules earlier this month, but the ordinance still needs the commission’s final vote of approval which is expected sometime in May.
Last fall, commissioners decided to postpone the vote on allowing recreational marijuana businesses until June 1st at the latest. Officials wanted to wait and hear more opinions from the public and assess how other communities had found success with their rules.
The drafted social equity policy calls for using at least 25% of licensing fees and tax revenue to support entrepreneurship in communities of color, education programs, and efforts to reduce blight in Kalamazoo neighborhoods impacted by drug related violence.
During the meeting, City Attorney Clyde Robinson said that the social equity part of the ordinance is one of the most talked-about.
“Our Social Equity piece was a clear attempt to respond to the concerns that we heard voiced at the second public input hearing that we had in February,” Robinson said. “That was predominately attended by people of color who wanted to know what the city is going to do to make social equity a real thing for Kalamazoo residents who have been impacted by marijuana enforcement. The statistics are there that people of color don’t use marijuana any more than non-people of color, but they have a lot higher prosecution rates.”
As part of the current social equity plan, some neighborhoods would have looser restrictions on where a marijuana business can be.
Robinson also said that the city has consulted with industry leaders and other legalized municipalities for advice in the ordinances and social equity.
“My impression is that, with the possible exception of the City of Flint, none of them are as robust as the City of Kalamazoo’s,” Robinson said. “Based upon my review of various other Michigan municipalities that have opened themselves up to recreational marijuana, I don’t think their programs are as strong as ours.”
Under current Michigan statutes, until 2021, applicants for recreational licenses must have a state medical license as well, which was meant to protect existing medical businesses.
“[This statute] was protecting Michigan residents and existing medical marijuana businesses so as to give them a leg up, and so the State wasn’t deluged with a lot of folks coming in from California, Michigan, and Colorado to start businesses here,” Robinson said.
Commissioner Eric Cunningham spoke favorably about the process in crafting this ordinance. He also spoke on the importance of the implications of this ordinance.
“I really want you to understand the gravity of what we are deciding on,” Cunningham said. “The reality is, what the people of Michigan have asked us to do will impact us for years to come. In 100 years, we’ll be looking back on this exact moment to say, ‘they got it right, they got it wrong,’ and people will reflect on these decisions that were made…we have to be intentional on thinking this through 100%. There can’t be any stone unturned in regards to every single component of this. We want to try and curb every negative impact as best as possible from the onset.”
According to Mayor David Anderson, this ordinance will be on the agenda for the first city meeting of May on May 4, and then two weeks later at the second monthly meeting.
“If all goes as planned, it would actually go into effect as of May 28th,” Anderson said, assuming the ordinance is passed.
A full list of different zoning regulations for each business type, as well as a map overlay and all related documents, can be viewed online at the City of Kalamazoo website.