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HANCOCK — The Hancock City Council held its regular June meeting on Wednesday evening via Zoom. While a number of important issues were on the agenda, one of the most contentious was the vote on whether or not to allow marijuana retail licensing in Hancock. The council ultimately voted against the measure.

“I drafted the opt-out policy last January, and it was always my intention to get to the place where we do have marijuana businesses in Hancock,” said Mayor Paul LaBine. “(…) but, I don’t think we’re there yet.”

LaBine, along with councilors Ron Blau, Dan Seguin, and John Haeussler, voted “no.” Voting “yes” were councilors John Slivon, Will Lytle, and Whitney Warstler, all of whom were members of the city’s Ad Hoc Recreational Marijuana research group, which was launched earlier this year to study recreational marijuana, whether licensing should be allowed in the city, and, if so, the best ways to potentially allow licensing.

Discussion on the vote involved the expression of personal freedoms, the will of the people of Hancock, and the safety of minors. The safety of minors was built into the discussion because state guidelines would have prevented a marijuana business from operating within 1000 feet of a school or 500 feet of a church, which would have effectively ruled out the entire downtown. While schools and downtown businesses expressed disinterest in having marijuana retailers downtown, others were skeptical of the effectiveness of the buffer.

“Within 300 feet (of a church or school), you can buy alcohol, tobacco, firearms, lottery tickets, tattoos, and sex toys,” said Lytle. “The idea that our town is a child-friendly place is entirely dependent on the conversations that you’re having with your kids about how they should spend their time and money.”

A public comment session saw members of the community debating whether or not licensed recreational marijuana in the city would have a positive or negative impact on mental health and the abuse of other substances in the community.

While the council voted not to adopt ordinance 306, which would have allowed licensing, and ordinance 307, which would have set licensing fees, LaBine and Lytle both expressed interest in opting back in and revisiting the topic at a later date.

Recreational marijuana is legal in the State of Michigan, following a referendum vote. However, the state leaves whether or not to allow licensed retailers to the decisions of individual municipalities. So, while it is legal to grow, use, and transport recreational marijuana within the city, it will not be available for purchase. Calumet to the North and Houghton to the South have both opted in to recreational marijuana retail, as have a number of communities throughout the western U.P.

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