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TRAVERSE CITY — Regulations for recreational marijuana businesses in Traverse City could be in place before summer’s over.

Zoning rules, a scoring rubric for competitively awarding recreational cannabis retail licenses and more are shaping up as city commissioners move draft ordinances forward. They could introduce the ordinance at a future meeting and vote to adopt them — or not — at a later one.

Commissioners debated whether to favor medical marijuana dispensary owners when awarding licenses to would-be recreational retailers. Commissioner Christie Minervini originally opposed this, as it would reward applicants who got their original license by luck through a lottery drawing.

She changed her mind after Commissioner Brian McGillivary and Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe — both members of an ad hoc committee that crafted the rules — said the competitive scoring system would otherwise be tough on existing dispensary owners.

Minervini said she was convinced, quipping that it’s proof commissioners don’t come to meetings with their minds already made up.

“I agree that some of the existing medical marijuana facilities would be at a disadvantage looking at this rubric, or not disadvantaged, but this would be a more level playing field,” she said.

She also supported a minimum score for applicants, with commissioners agreeing to 60 out of 75.

A public commenter who said he’s an attorney for an existing dispensary pointed to Ann Arbor and other Michigan cities that automatically give recreational retail licenses to medical cannabis dispensaries, and asked Traverse City to do the same. Doing otherwise could lead to litigation, he said.

State law requires awarding recreational retail licenses through a merit-based system if a local government limits the number of licenses, city Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht said.

Medical marijuana rules make it clear that license holders aren’t guaranteed a recreational business license later, Mayor Jim Carruthers said.

“We were clear from the beginning that this wasn’t an avenue to jump into adult use,” he said.

City rules would limit recreational retailers to four. Commissioners eventually settled on trimming that cap down from six originally in the draft rules. City leaders should revisit that number later to consider whether to allow more, commissioner Tim Werner said.

It’s better to start small and allow more later, Shamroe agreed. Trying to take licenses away later is messy — city leaders’ move to pause issuing provisional licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries prompted a business owner on the waitlist for one of those licenses to file a suit that’s still making its way through 13th Circuit Court.

Minervini said her experience as a business owner had her questioning the possibility of allowing more later. New retailers would cut into the market of those that already spent the money to become established, she said.

Recommendations for two microbusinesses remained unchanged, draft rules show. On-site consumption and excess marijuana grower businesses wouldn’t be allowed. Neither would temporary marijuana events, although event planners would be.

Commissioners agreed with the city Downtown Development Authority’s ask to keep retailers limited to two in most downtown C-4 districts, while barring them altogether from C-4B zoned properties.

That would exclude them from both sides of Front Street between Union and Park streets, Front Street’s south side from Park to Wellington streets and its north side from Union Street to the Boardman River, plus a few isolated spots along the river.

DDA CEO Jean Derenzy said authority board members wanted to focus on areas needing more investment like State and Garland streets.

Retailers within the remaining C4-zoned land would have to be 1,500 feet apart, according to draft rules.

City leaders previously discussed spacing requirements for medical retailers, similar to what the city had for medical marijuana collectives allowed by an older state law, as previously reported. They ultimately opted against, settling instead for a cap based on how many locations those spacing requirements would allow.

Shamroe said commissioners thought those spacing requirements would be too onerous, but that removing them may have created more problems than they solved.

That decision complicates any effort to add spacing requirements for recreational retailers, Trible-Laucht said. State law requires local governments to allow both medical and recreational stores to locate in the same building.

One way to add that requirement would be requiring recreational stores to space out while exempting those who co-locate with medical marijuana dispensaries, Trible-Laucht said.

Commissioners discussed the idea, although Commissioner Tim Werner said he believes allowing businesses to cluster can be good for sales, pointing to an ad hoc committee conversation about shoe stores.

“Shoe stores like to locate on the same block and they actually do better in business when shoppers can come and check out a few,” he said, adding he’d rather leave it up to businesses to decide.

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