IM to allow recreational marijuana businesses

IRON MOUNTAIN — The Iron Mountain City Council on Monday approved an ordinance to allow and regulate recreational marijuana facilities in the city.

With the ordinance taking effect in 30 days, the council may decide to later allow more marijuana businesses or take a wait-and-see approach on the two licenses it will grant for growing, processing and provisioning.

“If you’re going to add licenses, put a definite date on it,” the council was advised by Dave Fraser of Breitung Township, one of three local applicants who finished out of the running for two medical marijuana licenses awarded last week to downstate interests.

Fraser said he has “hundreds of thousands of dollars up in the air” and wants a clear understanding of the city’s intentions.

Medical and recreational licenses are linked under state rules, since only medical marijuana facilities can get recreational adult use permits.

The ordinance for recreational marijuana initially failed in a 3-3 vote, with Mayor Dale Alessandrini joining council members Bill Revord and Juan Saldana in favor, while council members Pam Maule, Butch Schinderle and Nathan Zemar voted no.

The 4-2 approval came after Zemar called for a reconsideration and changed his vote to yes. Before the first vote, both Zemar and Schinderle wondered about remedies for local investors so far shut out.

Alessandrini said failure to adopt an ordinance at this time might kill the issue entirely. “I’m not going through this anymore,” he said.

Maule had introduced a motion calling for an opt-out for a year, saying the city first should evaluate its medical licensees. It received no support.

The state requires a competitive process for awarding local licenses for recreational marijuana, City Manager Jordan Stanchina said. Once the new ordinance takes effect, there will be 45-day window for applications. The city must now take up the task of developing a rubric for scoring potential businesses.

As it stands, the city has issued provisional licenses to two downstate businesses for medical marijuana facilities. Macomb-based RIZE has promised a $5 million investment and 60 to 90 jobs. Attitude Wellness of Evart is committing $2.18 million and 20 jobs. It’s assumed both also will apply for recreational licenses — and enjoy a decided advantage in the competitive process.

The rubric for medical facility applications, meanwhile, has generated controversy. Three local applicants protested their scores last week and, in at least one case, raised the possibility of a lawsuit.

Council member Kyle Blomquist addressed the rubric Monday, saying its purpose got “lost in a shuffle of technicalities.” Even though the successful applicants were well above the others in staffing, investment, and building improvements, objectors claimed the applications were roughly equivalent, he said.

Blomquist has abstained from voting on the marijuana ordinances, due to a potential conflict with his architectural business.

Brad Butler of Niagara, Wis., part-owner of a business denied a license, urged the council to allow more permits. “It’s in the ordinance that you could add more,” he said. “The big guys are more afraid to compete against us than we are against them.”

Craig Canterbury of Norway, a medical marijuana patient advocate, suggested the city amend its ordinances to allow micro-businesses, which come under their own set of state regulations. Any expansion of licenses for growing and processing could establish Iron Mountain as an exporter of marijuana products, he added.

Residents Virginia Feleppa and Jerry Rahoi spoke in opposition to recreational marijuana. Marijuana use is dangerous for teens and decreases motivation for school and work performance, Rahoi said.

Feleppa agreed, saying the city should “delay as long as possible.” In any event, money should be dedicated to educating teens and pregnant women on marijuana’s dangers, she said.

In its medical marijuana application, RIZE proposed a facility for processing, growing and sales at a now-vacant building at 1580 N. Stephenson Ave., about a quarter-mile south of Industrial Drive and North Lake Antoine Road.

Attitude Wellness plans a growing and processing facility on the west side of Hydraulic Falls Road between Stephenson Avenue and Breitung Cutoff Road. Its provisioning center will be at 117 and 119 S. Stephenson Ave., just south of East Fleshiem Street, where structures are to be rehabilitated.

Michigan’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency will begin accepting applications Nov. 1 for recreational business licenses. By state rule, medical and recreational can occupy the same facility, but products must be kept separate.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Michigan for a decade, while voters approved recreational marijuana in November 2018. As of Friday, 51 percent of Michigan communities have opted out of the facilities portion of the recreational marijuana law, according to Crain’s Detroit Business. Although the local bans may have some impact, Marijuana Business Daily projects Michigan eventually will generate $1.7 billion of annual marijuana sales.

Jim Anderson can be reached at 906-774-3500, ext. 226, or janderson@ironmountaindailynews.com.