Heights council opts out of allowing marijuana businesses in city

By ZEINAB NAJM
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS — The City Council unanimously voted to opt out of allowing marijuana grow dispensaries, facilities and recreational sales in the city during a meeting on Dec. 11.

Corporation Counsel Gary Mitoke proposed the ordinance and Councilman Dave Abdallah moved to agree with Mitoke. Councilman Bill Bazzi supported Abdallah’s motion. The agreement on the proposed ordinance included the first and second reading along with the adoption on an emergency basis.
Abdallah said he was completely against marijuana establishments, but after doing more research, talking to people and attending seminars he became more open-mined. He also said that of the phone calls and emails he received from residents, the comments were consistent with not wanting the recreational marijuana businesses in the community just yet.

Mitoke said part of the reason he recommended the ordinance was because it would prohibit the establishments in the city boundaries while more research is done and that the ordinance could be changed later to opt in.

Police Chief Daniel Voltattorni agreed with Mitoke’s recommendation and that he also received phone calls from people who didn’t want marijuana establishments in the city.

“This gives us the chance to see where we want to go and what we want to do as a city while the state puts their throughs and systems in place.”

When asked by Abdallah if the Police Department is already prepared to handle marijuana establishments in the city, Voltattorni said the department is still working on procedures on how it would deal with it.

Legalization of recreational marijuana was approved statewide in the Nov. 6 general election 2,344,450 to 1,849,005. In Dearborn Heights the voters were in favor of the proposal with 10,232 votes for legalization to 8,396 against.

According to Vote411.org, the marijuana legalization initiative is an “initiated law to authorize and legalize possession, use and cultivation of marijuana products by individuals who are at least 21 years of age and older, and commercial sales of marijuana through state-licensed retailers.”

The state law allows people 21 and older to purchase, possess and use marijuana and marijuana-infused edibles, and grow up to 12 marijuana plants for personal consumption; imposes a 10-ounce limit for marijuana kept at home and require amounts over 2.5 ounces be secured in locked containers; creates a state licensing system for marijuana businesses and allow municipalities to ban or restrict them; permits retail sales of marijuana and edibles subject to a 10 percent tax, dedicated to implementation costs, clinical trials, schools, roads, and municipalities where marijuana businesses are located; and changes several current violations from crimes to civil infractions.

Cities that also choose to opt out of the retail marijuana sales will not receive the tax proceeds collected from the sales nor collect the maximum annual fee of $5,000 per marijuana establishment.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has about a year to review the ballot proposal terms and create rules before the recreational marijuana market is ready on a commercial level.
State Sen. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights) was in attendance at the council meeting where he said that the major change being looked at in Lansing would be to amend the language ballot to eliminate allowing home grows to take place.

Councilman Ray Muscat said his discussion was very difficult to make and that he saw the pros and cons of the recreational marijuana proposal. He also said residents emailed or called him about recreational marijuana and that the city is split down the middle, but people didn’t want it in their neighborhoods as a business.

Councilman Robert Constan said it would be better to wait and see if the state decides whether or not someone can use marijuana, but that the impact recreational marijuana businesses would have on the city remains to be seen.

During the public comment portion at the beginning of the meeting, a couple of residents said they were against the marijuana establishments in the city and the impact it would have on the city as a whole.

Resident Hassan Bazzi said he was in attendance to raise concern on the marijuana proposal approval on the state level.

“To allow the sale of marijuana in our communities would be a dangerous gamble and a step into the wrong direction especially when considering the future of our youth,” he said. “This is the time for our city council to show that we were not wrong in placing our trust in them to put our communities first.”

(Zeinab Najm can be reached at zeinabnajm92@gmail.com.)