Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Ironwood approves marijuana ordinance


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Ironwood — After two years of committee meetings, workshops, public hearings and several revisions, the Ironwood City Commission approved the city’s adult-use marijuana ordinance on Monday.

The 3-2 approval amends the city code to regulate adult-use marijuana establishments. The effective date of the ordinance was not announced at the meeting but the commission extended its option-out ordinance through Nov. 9 at a previous meeting to allow time for administrative and enforcement structures to be put in place.

The commission’s division on the ordinance is a reflection of the community, said Mayor Annette Burchell, who was the deciding vote in favor of the ordinance on Monday, after giving the deciding vote against the initial version back in March. She said the primary ordinance concerns have been addressed regarding exclusionary buffer zones, signage, the number of licenses allowable, product testing and certification.

Burchell said that her changing vote ultimately reflected the fact that marijuana is legal in the state of Michigan. It is already present in the community and that it is the city’s responsibility to provide a safer option, she said.

“I just personally feel that in a state where it’s legal I believe we should provide a way for people of age who enjoy or want this choice to partake to be able to purchase something that has been tested and in a legal fashion and a legitimate source,” Burchell said. “I think that helps our job in terms of protecting the health and welfare of our citizenry and our visitors in terms of making a choice of purchasing something that’s been tested and to know exactly what they are getting and what percent of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and all that stuff.”

Burchell said it is not possible to make everybody happy with this ordinance. There was ample opportunity to hear from people who are passionate about the issues on both sides and some of that input was incorporated into the ordinance.

The commission has taken the slow approach to drafting an ordinance, she said. The city is staying the course with starting small in terms of the numbers of licenses allowed.

Commissioners Jim Mildren and Joseph Cayer voted against the ordinance, as they did in March. Mildren said he might have voted in favor but felt the city should not take action on an item that might attract many people to the area until the safe conclusion of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cayer said he would have preferred the meeting on the ordinance to be held in a public forum and not online. There are elderly and others who do not use computers or have access to the internet, he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Kim Corcoran, and Commissioner Rick Semo repeated their March votes in support of the ordinance. Semo and Corcoran said they would like to see the signage limitations lifted to allow more color, graphics and lighting but elected to address that at a later date rather than delay the vote one more time. Corcoran also had concerns with restrictive licensing language but said that could also be addressed later.

“Ironwood has done a good job looking at this for over two years and has addressed most of the concerns,” Corcoran said.

The ordinance follows through on the state’s intent to remove adult-use marijuana manufacturing and distribution from illicit markets and criminal enterprises, she said. The ordinance provides safety with tracking and inspection of establishments and additional sales taxes provide revenue for roads and schools in areas where commercial marijuana is established. It will also bring jobs, she said.

Tim Dean, the city attorney, said he reviewed concerns about the city charging a $1,500 nonrefundable license application fee. He said the city can justify the fee for anticipated expenses involved in the administrative processes and law enforcement inspections.

Once an application is approved the merchant is subject to an annual $5,000 license renewal fee to defray city costs.

The ordinance allows for two licenses each for marijuana micro-business, retailers, processors and each class of growers. Marijuana safety compliance facilities and secure transporter licenses are unlimited.

Designated consumption establishments, marijuana event organizer licenses, and temporary event licenses are prohibited under the ordinance.

The competitive application process involves an initial qualification review followed by a city planning commission merit review process for a score. The applicant may proceed through the license application process if the ranking reaches the cap limit level in each license category.

Tom Bergman, director of community development, said that the ordinance expresses the city commission’s desire to have an ordinance that starts small. The ordinance may seen a little restrictive in the beginning but that is for the city to “study the landscape of what adult-use marijuana looks like in our community.”

The commission 5-0 approved a $65,863 change order for the Downtown City Square Project to Ruotsala Construction, LLC. Paul Anderson, of Coleman Engineering, said there were overages from early project work involving excavation of soils, rocks and rubble underneath the site. The work also involved additional storm sewer installation and lighting that were not originally part of the project planning.

The funding for the change order is within the original grant budget because the bid came underneath the amount, he said. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the grant source, reviewed the change order and provided its preliminary approval for the work.

The commission 4-1 approved a $2,400 annual lease with Chargepoint to install and maintain an electric vehicle charging station for two vehicles near the Downtown City Square location. Commissioner Cayer voted against.

The commission took no action to consider installing an $7,200 irrigation system at the Downtown Art Park.

In other business, the commission unanimously approved:

—The Mayor’s reappointment of Bob Tervonen and Scott Erickson to the Gogebic County Wastewater Board.

—The Mayor’s reappointment of Semo to the Gogebic-Iron Wastewater Authority, and Mildren as an alternate.

—A five year financing of a $24,959 purchase of five Axon tasers for the Ironwood Public Safety Department to replace three tasers. Up to $10,000 in grant funding is available for the purchase.

—Waiving a 3% late penalty fee for summer property tax payment to an Ironwood couple.

—Heard a presentation on marketing efforts from Ironwood Tourism Council and City of Ironwood from Amber Hallenbeck and Tim Erickson.

—Using $12,000 in remaining Iron Belle Trail project funds for historic signage at the trailhead and along the Ironwood to Bessemer segment.

—A resolution to enforce a blight cleanup of an Oak Street property if the property owner does not complete the work within two weeks.

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