The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Ironwood starts adult-use marijuana discussion


January 8, 2020

Tom LaVenture/Daily Globe

Members of the Ironwood City Commission and around 60 community discuss the first draft of an adult-use marijuana establishment ordinance Monday at the Ironwood Memorial Building.


Ironwood - The city of Ironwood presented a draft of its adult-use marijuana establishment ordinance to the public Monday to receive feedback for revisions before a final version can be considered by the city commission.

Around 60 people attended the workshop with members of the Ironwood City Commission and city planning commission present. The discussion will continue with a second public workshop at 6 p.m. Feb. 3, and an official public hearing at 5 p.m. Feb. 13. The city commission anticipates considering the ordinance at its March 9 regular meeting.

"I think it was a great opportunity to hear from more members of the community and we sure appreciated everyone's courage and willingness to share their thoughts," said Mayor Annette Burchell, who was present with fellow city commissioners Jim Mildren and Kim Corcoran. "I think there were several really good, productive suggestions that came out of this meeting that we can look at incorporating into the ordinance."

Corcoran suggested adding an outline of information in the application process that directs people to the state agencies and other resources that would be helpful to the process.

Mildren suggested having a state official from the appropriate agency present at the next workshop to provide input on the ordinance and field questions from the public.

"It's such a normal part of government to have the state involved in collecting public input or giving answers," Mildren said.

The ordinance, presented by Tom Bergman, director of community development for the city of Ironwood, intends to start out slowly with a limited number of licenses before considering an increase, he said. A 15-member community advisory group worked on the ordinance over several months followed by legal review on an adult-use marijuana establishment ordinance to regulate establishments that are first vetted and licensed by the state of Michigan before city approval, he said.

The public input is part of the process in the city's work to develop the ordinance, Bergman said

"That is how we got to this point," he said. "This is something the city is taking very seriously."

Input will be accepted outside the workshops and hearings via email, phone or mail until Feb. 13, he said. The city's deadline to approve an ordinance to option out of commercial adult-use marijuana is March 31.

The city commission decided to option-out of adult-use marijuana at the time the state referendum approved it November 2018, he said. At the same time the commission directed city staff to create an ordinance with language on how commercial use would be regulated if adult-use were approved.

Then the legal work followed and the outcome is mainly what someone would need to know what's required if they wanted to operate a facility in Ironwood, he said. The ordinance outlines the fee structure, the number of allowable licenses by category, building requirements and the application process.

Bergman said the city would issue two marijuana retailer and two marijuana micro-business licenses using a competitive process. The micro-business is licensed to grow, process, package and sell up to 150 marijuana plants, while the retailer is licensed to obtain marijuana from other marijuana establishments to sell to individuals over 21 years.

Retailers and micro-businesses are limited to C-3 highway commercial and C-2 downtown commercial zoning districts.

The city will issue two marijuana grower licenses for each class: A (100 plants); B (500 plants) and C (2,000 plants), he said. There is a $5,000 annual fee and stacked licenses are not allowed, he said.

The city will issue two marijuana processor licenses that allow a marijuana establishments to process, package, sell or transfer to other licensed marijuana establishments. There is no competitive process or limit on the number of marijuana safety compliance facilities to test marijuana for potency or presence of contaminants, or of secure transporters from on marijuana establishments to another.

Marijuana growers, processors and safety compliance facilities are limited within the I-1 industrial district zoning and may operate 24 hours a day. Outdoor growing is prohibited and none are permitted in the downtown.

The downtown "core" area is an area where marijuana businesses are not allowed to protect the intent of the downtown district, Bergman said. There is roughly a four block area from Albany Street in the west to Norfolk Street in the east, and a two block area from the alleys between Ayer Street to the north and McLeod Street to the south.

The boundary didn't include McLeod Street because it's considered outside the core area and the older buildings present opportunities for growers to renovate and add value which is also in the interest of city planning. Ayer Street was not included for boundary consistency and is also considered outside the core area.

Marijuana establishments that apply to locate in the industrial park or other areas in the city may not open within exclusively residential neighborhoods. They may not locate within 500 feet of a property line of a pre-existing school, 100 feet from a church or 100 feet from a city park.

Martin Celeski, of Ironwood, said he would like the city to option-out of the ordinance. He said the $20,000 the city would receive from licensing is miniscule compared to the concerns.

"I would rather see us not have it at all and I think it would be a detriment to our community," he said.

Kevin Benner, a retired police chief from the Twin Cities area, said the ordinance was thorough but his concern was that since Ironwood's border offers lucrative potential with nearby states where adult-use marijuana is illegal - that the city resist the temptation to put revenue before community.

The concern should be preventing marijuana access to youth, he said. Addictions that start under age 21 tend to become lifelong addictions, he said.

"Send a message to distributers in the marketplace that when marijuana is dispensed to people under age 21 the penalties are very serious," Benner said.

Benner also suggested that the city require two years of tax returns with the licensing application. This would make it transparent if the owner is not the operator, he said.

Arlene Szot said she and her daughter are sensitive to the odor of marijuana and experience skin, eyes and cardiovascular reactions in addition to nausea. She also expressed concern that the 500 foot buffers from schools, churches and parks would not prevent odors from reaching these places and also wanted nursing homes added to the buffer zone.

"Maybe we should consider 1,000 feet," she said, citing the state and federal laws.

Brandon Midthune, a marijuana grower and advocate from Erwin Township, said the "sensible legalization of cannabis" came first with medical marijuana, and then for adult users and it's now about small growing operations. On the surface he said the Ironwood ordinance is thorough but was concerned it might favor big corporations and be prohibitive to smaller "mom and pop" growers with access to the limited number of licenses.

Other than the industrial park or other designated industrial areas there really aren't many options, he said. Nobody here is already operating a commercial medical marijuana facility and won't be able to apply for the adult-use licenses, he said.

Referring to the complaints about the odors from homeowners legally growing their own marijuana, Midthune said ordinance doesn't directly address the neighborhood issues but were Ironwood to opt-in to it might indirectly address those concerns.

"I believe that the sooner we do allow licensed facilities here in Ironwood the lower the incentive will be for people to grow their own cannabis and the smells that are becoming a nuisance to their neighbors," Midthune said.

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