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TRAVERSE CITY — A baby black rhino gestates for 450 days, and Traverse City’s recreational marijuana business rules have gone unfinished for even longer.

Moment for those rules could be in sight after city commissioners agreed at a recent study session that they want to go forward on what they started crafting in December 2018.

Commissioner Brian McGillivary asked them to consider five options, ranging from doing nothing until a judge or petitioners force their hand, to moving ahead with a full set of rules for recreational marijuana businesses. He pointed to some businesses being hurt by the city’s indecision.

“The purpose of my letter was to give some other options besides putting this back on track to move forward, or maybe doing more of a slower roll-out or if commissioners want to just keep pressing the pause button, I can live with that too,” he said.

Commissioners debated between a limited start or moving ahead with the full set of rules, but they agreed it’s time to act and could do so at the start of August. McGillivary said they’ll first have to decide on a limit for recreational retailers, and on a scoring rubric for awarding the licenses.

He said allowing one or two existing medical marijuana sellers to get into recreational cannabis sales would provide a source for residents who have been waiting for legal recreational sales for 18 months, and do so more quickly than those pursuing new construction.

That could favor businesses that already were lucky enough to win the city’s medical marijuana license lottery, Commissioner Christie Minervini said.

State law requires recreational retail licenses be awarded through a merit-based process but doesn’t say much on what that process should entail, city Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht said. Past experience suggests medical retailers would be well-qualified if they apply for recreational licences.

“It is true they were in the first instance chosen by lottery,” she said. “There’s no way around that, that’s the existing condition right now.”

Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe said it’s easier to start small and offer more licenses later than to try to take them away later.

An ad hoc committee tasked with drafting rules for the recreational marijuana industry in Traverse City did good, said Commissioner Tim Werner. He was a “late comer” to that committee, on which McGillivary and Shamroe also serve, and doesn’t want to see those efforts set aside. The pandemic delayed the rule-making process, he said.

He favored allowing other business types to open besides dispensaries, while noting Trible-Laucht raised legal concerns over this option.

A new set of statewide rules due in July could force the city to rewrite the rules shortly after their adoption, Shamroe said. The city’s efforts to cap the number of recreational retailers could also be undercut by litigation challenging who’s entitled to a license.

Commissioner Ashlea Walter said she’s alright with moving forward with the full set of rules, and that it’ll be a long time before the dust settles on various litigation and state-level changes.

McGillivary wrote about his frustration over marijuana business attorneys’ repeated threats of litigation — commissioner Roger Putman asked Trible-Laucht what can be done to avoid litigation.

“I think that maybe one of the only certainties is that we probably will end up with some of that no matter what we do,” Trible-Laucht said.

A business that hoped to be one of 13 medical marijuana dispensaries wants 13th Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power to order the city to issue it a license.

Green Stem LLC claimed in its civil complaint to be the 14th license drawn, and the next in line should one of the original lottery winners fail to open. Instead, city commissioners in April voted to issue no more provisional licenses.

Commissioners discussed the lawsuit behind closed doors Monday, and court records show a hearing is set for Thursday.

Traverse City remains opted out from allowing recreational cannabis businesses, 18 months after city voters favored a statewide ballot question to legalize the drug.

Medical marijuana businesses are allowed in the city, and the first dispensaries to open under a 2016 state law did so in January.

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