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City leaders discussed details and answered questions from the public on a series of draft ordinances that would allow recreational marijuana businesses to operate within city limits.

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KALAMAZOO, MI (WKZO AM/FM) — The city of Kalamazoo held a livestreamed town hall meeting on Thursday evening where leaders discussed the next steps ahead for allowing recreational pot businesses.

Hosted on Facebook Live, multiple city leaders addressed potential city policies for recreational marijuana including how it would be reflected in zoning laws, special requirements for the industry, social equity, and the process by which the ordinance is developed.

The Kalamazoo city commission last fall decided to postpone a vote on allowing the businesses because officials wanted to wait and hear more opinions from the public and assess how other communities had found success with their rules. Commissioners at that point set a deadline of June 2020 for when they would like to see the final resolution be approved.

The amendment that Michigan voters passed in 2018 legalizing adult-use marijuana in the state provides local communities the ability to opt-out from allowing recreational businesses. Speaking at the virtual meeting, Mayor David Anderson said it’s not a matter of if Kalamazoo will authorize commercial activity, but when.

“There was certainly a majority of Kalamazoo City residents that voted for that at the state level, and voted for local initiatives over the course of the last few years,” said Anderson. “So we know we have that support, and we know we have interest in Kalamazoo.”

Anderson stressed that the city was heading into “uncharted territory” in dealing with an entirely new industry and that several components would need to be agreed upon before any final resolution is passed.

Allowing legal pot businesses would require changes to city ordinances and a review process to be set in motion by the city planning commission. Additionally the city commission will have to write a separate set ordinances detailing how licensing will work for applying businesses.

City Planner Christina Anderson said that the COVID-19 outbreak has caused some difficulties during the process, with a series of public meetings planned to be held across the city canceled as a result. Now the next step toward approval is sending zoning changes to the planning commission, which is still scheduled to hold a digital meeting on April 15th.

The state currently provides cities with 10 categories for allowable recreational marijuana businesses. Kalamazoo already has ordinances for the categories of grower, processer, safety compliance laboratory, secure transporter, and shops/retailers for pre-existing medical marijuana businesses. Proposed plans call for adding the categories of micro-business, excess grower, and a designated consumption lounge where marijuana use is allowed on site.

Anderson says that none of the categories would be allowed for residential areas, but would be allowed to operate in commercial zones. Businesses except for laboratories would have to be placed 1000 feet away from existing K-12 school buildings and 500 feet away from daycare facilities.

“In addition to that, each category has its own set of parameters.” said Anderson. “Some would need to be a certain distance apart, some would need to be inside or outside.”

Another issue discussed at the meeting is a how the city plans to implement a state-mandated social equity policy for any potential ordinances governing recreational marijuana.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer Darla Bonner says the city’s proposed plan addresses how ordinances effect business opportunities for different demographic groups by looking at different census tracts in the community.

Certain parts of the plan could limit licensing fees, govern how individuals with criminal records and drug convictions apply for licenses, and layout rules governing where operations can exist.

Certain Eastside, Edison, and Northside city residents who own more than half of a recreational marijuana business would be eligible for a 25% reduction in licensing fee purchases. Another provision offers the reduced rate for city residents with marijuana convictions that did not involve distribution to a minor.

The measures are intended to mitigate the previous effects of punitive drug enforcement laws on certain communities, and ensure that minor drug convictions do not prohibit people from engaging in the newly legalized industry.

The drafted social equity policy calls for using at least 25% of licensing fees and tax revenue to support entrepreneurship in communities of color, education programs, and efforts to reduce blight in Kalamazoo neighborhoods impacted by drug related violence.

“Our goal with our social equity plan is not to just support people who have been impacted to start businesses but also to have a community impact from the fees that we will receive from the licensing,” said Bonner of the proposal.

Mayor David Anderson said that even though the social equity plan is required by the state, the city has more flexibility to go above and beyond to ensure fairness in its eventual policies.

“Reason one we wanted to wait is that we didn’t want to rush into it and not do what we could on the social equity side,” Anderson said of the city’s timeline for the process.

Kalamazoo originally voted to postpone approving an ordinance last fall to avoid being automatically opted-in by the state government to allow recreational operations. City Commissioner Eric Cunningham said he appreciates the time to see what policies work and do not work around Michigan.

“I think it’s very vital that we do not take a shotgun approach and just rush into this opportunity, and I think it’s something that we have to be intentional on as a community,” said Cunningham.

During the meeting, deputy city manager Jeff Chamberlain read screened questions from the public regarding the proposed ordinances and the potential timeline for approval. Unlike a previous city commission meeting where commissioners were “zoom bombed” by trolls spouting offensive speech on the virtual platform, this time comments were made below the Facebook Live video, in addition to phone calls and emails sent to the city.

One question posed why the city was putting looser regulations on recreational marijuana compared to previous policies overseeing medical marijuana.

Describing how the state has two separate sets for laws governing the categories, City Planner Christina Anderson said that the differences come down to language in the ballot proposals that authorized the two separate uses.

Asked whether the ordinances would cap the number of licenses at the citywide or neighborhood level, Anderson said the limiting factor will be spacing requirements in each zoning district. Once the planning commission finalizes recreational zoning ordinances, it will become clearer what the capacity for certain businesses are in the city.

While Kalamazoo is not proposing a cap, city attorney Clyde Robinson says that other municipalities that have tried to limit licenses have nearly almost faced lawsuits from would-be operators.

“It was a conscious decision because those communities that went through a decision matrix to determine winners and losers, who got licenses, they ended up in court because the people who didn’t get licenses attacked the system of being flawed, unfairly administered,” said Robinson.

A constant refrain by questioners was why the city had waited so long to pass a recreational marijuana business policy in the first place.

Urging patience, Commissioner Chris Praedel said that the delay doesn’t reflect any disinterest in the topic.

“I think a lot of people know Kalamazoo is a really progressive community and for some people, especially users, the thought is that this delay doesn’t really align with that,” said Praedel of the timeline. “But it very much aligns with our values, and the values of use being thoughtful about this and making sure we consider that social equity piece.”

“We have a self-imposed deadline for June and we’re shooting for that, but if we get a lot of feedback here that seems to indicate we need to adjust some things, that’s why we’re doing this,” said Mayor David Anderson.

Mayor David Anderson says that community engagement is critical in developing successful policies, and he encouraged residents to send their questions during the meeting and for ones scheduled in the future.

“What we did was a delayed opt-in so we could do the best job we can on this. But that is also why we are now working and we need everyone’s help to make sure we get this right,” said Anderson. “So if you have some input don’t wait around. Get this into us now so we can have an effective, community approved ordinance that goes forward.”

Residents can email questions and comments to townhall@kalamazoocity.org or call (269) 226-6573 and leave a message.

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