TRAVERSE CITY — Rules for Traverse City’s future recreational marijuana businesses are ready for a vote.

City commissioners on Monday will consider adopting rules that have been in the works since December 2018. Mayor Jim Carruthers acknowledged it has taken some time, but said city leaders wanted to draft something that works for the city and its residents. The state was drafting rules at the same time, and COVID-19 also slowed the process.

“I mean, not everybody supports it, but this is something that the state and those in Traverse City did support, so I’m ready to move it forward and get moving with it, so yeah,” he said.

The ordinance lays out where different business types like retailers, growers, safety testers and microbusinesses can operate — owners of the latter can grow up to 150 plants and process and sell on site.

Retailers would be limited to four citywide, and two within the Downtown Development Authority District, according to the proposed ordinance. Those two would have to be 1,500 feet apart, and couldn’t locate in the C-4B Regional Center district.

The DDA requested the limits and saw little pushback from city commissioners or planners.

But they struck Commissioner Roger Putman as hypocritical, he said. Alcohol consumption contributes to numerous problems and the city wants to improve its drinking culture despite an apparent condoning, or at least tolerating, of certain behavior — he recalled having to step out of the way of a pedal pub full of boisterous people blasting profane music.

Plus, any empty downtown storefront could become a bar, yet there seems to be a fear of marijuana establishments that seems to stem from the old “reefer madness” stigma around the substance, Putman said.

“I think it’s just a matter of the stigma of this product of marijuana is so heavy, so socially intertwined with a lot of people’s thinking as to what’s good or bad,” he said. “And this isn’t a matter of good or bad, it’s a matter of peoples’ consideration of something that could be a viable business and create jobs, which we’re trying to do and be a force of business leadership in this city.”

Carruthers doesn’t agree with every part of the rules, either, he said — he doesn’t believe a scoring rubric to award recreational retail licenses should give existing medical marijuana licenseholders extra points. Applicants for medical licenses who didn’t win the lottery should have a shot, he said.

Both Carruthers and Putman said they’re willing to move ahead with the rules — Carruthers said the issue has been studied to death and it’s time to move on.

Putman agreed, even though he said he’s all but certain whatever the city adopts will eventually be challenged in court.

“We’ve got to do something, we’ve got to get this rolling so we can get the process in place so we can meet the challenges ahead, especially those that are going to be litigated,” Putman said.

Commissioners also could vote to align the end of its opt-out for recreational marijuana businesses with the date the new ordinances take effect. The current sunset is Aug. 30 and the ordinances could take effect Aug. 27.

Carruthers said it’s an added step in case the city needs to delay the ordinances’ effective date.

Commissioners also will decide whether to pull a Nov. 3 ballot question that would ask city voters to OK leasing the Traverse City Senior Center to Grand Traverse County.

County commissioners had requested a lease before asking county voters to approve a millage to build a new senior center there, as previously reported.

Ballot language was due Aug. 11, and City Manager Marty Colburn previously said a joint meeting with county leaders was planned for that day. The city opted out over shifting meeting times and county commissioners’ request that city leaders vote on a tentative lease with less than 24 hours to review it.

County commissioners on Aug. 11 took no action to place the millage ask on the ballot, also citing concerns about making a last-minute decision.

Colburn said the city’s ballot language must now be pulled because even if voters adopted it, it’s tie-barred to a millage question that won’t be there. He was disappointed but hoped to keep working with county leaders on the joint project.

Carruthers said he blamed the county for “playing games” and not letting the people decide whether to go forward.

While Putman also thought the voters should’ve had the chance, he called it a collective failure of both governments to get a deal done for something the area’s older residents sorely need.

It’s a failure for which he’s deeply embarrassed.

“I personally would like to apologize to the taxpayers and the residents of Grand Traverse County for not being able to pull this off,” he said.

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