Township approves new pot business ordinance

The grass is a little greener for cannabis businesses seeking to set up pot shops in Monroe Charter Township.

During a special meeting Thursday night, township officials unanimously voted to approve the final portion of a two-prong approach to regulating the cannabis industry within its jurisdiction. 

The meeting lasted seven minutes and saw no residents or concerned parties come forward with public comment, a shift from previous meetings on the matter. Such discussions have been marked by hours-long public meetings and dozens of area residents voicing their thoughts on cannabis commerce. 

Supervisor Alan Barron said he is satisfied the township was able to adopt the ordinance. He thanked the township officials who have worked on the measure, and said hiring outside legal counsel also proved beneficial. 

“We did make some tweaks (compared to the past), which I think are good,” Barron said. “The new ordinance is going to work out great.”

The ordinance approved Thursday acts as the regulatory law and order framework for local cannabis businesses, including recreational provisioning centers, grow operations and medical dispensaries. It sets the township’s legal expectations and application process for those entities. 

Last week, officials adopted a zoning ordinance that laid requirements for where prospective businesses may locate in the future. 

That measure largely restricts businesses to the LaPlaisance Road Corridor, and requires those businesses to mostly avoid residential neighborhoods and establishing too close to another municipality’s bounds.

The measures apply to future cannabis businesses. Businesses that have previously applied to, and received appro the township will be considered as nonconforming special use properties, though they stand to lose that designation should they violate state or local laws, experience an extended period of inactivity or radically alter their location’s physical structure.

Barron said the new ordinances have drawn little criticism and the township has received compliments on the updated measures. 

“We’ve had a couple attorneys (from other municipalities) reach out and ask to see our (latest) ordinance,” he added. 

For nearly two years, the township has worked to enact an ordinance regulating the cannabis industry within its boundaries.

After voters approved a statewide ballot measure in 2018 legalizing recreational marijuana, municipalities were given until late 2019 to adopt ordinances that would officially opt them out of allowing recreational cannabis establishments within their limits. Those that did not meet such a deadline would be opted in by default, though they could later adopt opt-in or opt-out ordinances changing their rules. 

Last year the township adopted an ordinance creating rules and regulations for the industry locally, and started taking applications from prospective businesses. 

As the township’s Planning Commission began to hold hearings on those businesses, backlash from area residents mounted, fueled by criticism that officials did not impose a limit on the number of businesses in the township or limit where they could locate. Six businesses received approval from the Planning Commission, and another eight were awaiting hearings. 

A group critical of the township’s original ordinance successfully argued the motion had been improperly adopted, invalidating the measure. 

The township enacted a moratorium on processing additional marijuana applications in October, effectively placing a stopgap on the eight businesses. 

Repeated attempts to adopt a new ordinance failed as township officials squabbled over what a new ordinance should entail. 

Catherine Kaufman, an attorney retained by the township as special counsel on the marijuana issue, has said at prior meetings the two-prong approach to regulating marijuana commerce is the best approach.

She also has said imposing a limit on the number of businesses is what most often leads to litigation as it creates a system of winners and losers, adding the zoning aspect of the ordinances is what gives the township the most power to limit where commerce occurs.

Patricia McCormick, township attorney, said the ordinances will become effective seven days after they are published in The Monroe News, a requirement per state law.

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