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HOUGHTON — Recreational marijuana sales are closer to becoming a reality in Houghton. 

The city council approved a special-use permit Wednesday for Northern Specialty Health, a medical marijuana dispensary that is looking to expand into the recreational market. It also scheduled public hearings for two marijuana ordinances for July 22. 

NSH co-owner Penny Milkey said she was happy to reach that point in the licensing process. 

“Every step forward is a step closer to adult-use cannabis sales at NSH,” she said. 

Next, NSH must submit an adult-use retailer application, which is submitted to the council after background checks. The council would then vote on whether to grant a conditional license. At that time, NSH would have to submit proof that it has applied for or been prequalified for a state license; NSH has already been prequalified, Milkey said. 

Within 30 days of NSH submitting proof of a state operating license, the city clerk would approve a license to sell recreational marijuana in the city. 

One of the ordinances would amend the city’s zoning code to remove the limit of one marijuana establishment within the city. It also removed earlier language that set up a scoring system to determine in what order applicants could be considered.

The city council had earlier proposed the number be raised to three, sending the ordinance back to the planning commission for revision. The planning commission voted to eliminate the cap altogether, deciding the geographic and market limits were enough. 

Recreational shops, like those for medical marijuana, would be confined to the same narrow zone along Razorback Drive. 

“It really limits it to a smaller geographic area and some of those properties are already built on,” City Manager Eric Waara said. “Ultimately, someone’s not going to build seven sub sandwich shops, one next to the other.”

Speaking during the planning commission meeting, City Councilor John Sullivan said he opposed changing the limit from three. 

“I don’t think the City of Houghton needs a reputation like the city of Hurley, Wisconsin, did at one time, multiple establishments on one street,” he said. 

Kyle Blomquist, a member of the Iron Mountain City Council, said removing the limit could help the city avoid some of the problems it had run into in its licensing process. With no cap, it would lessen the burden on city staff in reviewing applications, and would close off a cause of potential litigation, he said. 

Another ordinance would amend the language regarding medical marijuana dispensaries to remove a ban on being located within 1,000 feet of an existing dispensary, and remove language regarding the order in which applicants might be considered for future openings.

Milkey estimated NSH would be able to start recreational sales in September. 

“I’ve been guessing since last November and it’s exhausting,” she said. “We have been ready and are turning people away daily. Instead of staying or coming to Houghton, people are driving towards the other open facilities in the U.P.” 

On Tuesday, the planning commission set a public hearing on a request for a special use permit for Attitude Wellness Lume Cannabis. Its facility would be on Lot 12 of Razorback Drive. 

That hearing will take place at the commission’s next meeting on July 28. If the commission approves the request, it would come before the city council on Aug. 12.

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