Traverse City Continues Work on Marijuana Ordinance; Retailers Struggle
"I have no words for it to be honest … there’s no way this is going to get done in a timely manner.” - James Rissi, Nirvana Center
An Ad Hoc committee is taking on the task of rewriting the ordinance. “The City Commission referred the matter to the Ad Hoc, so the Ad Hoc can look at the city’s adult marijuana ordinances and recommend changes specifically to adult recreational use,” says Peter Worden, an attorney serving as Outside Counsel for Traverse City. “They’re looking primarily at the number of retail facilities.”
“The city commission has decided we can go ahead and look at the ordinance and talk about revising it. The city’s primary interest is doing it in a way that it’s a public process,” Worden says.
Traverse City leaders say they’re not opposed to recreational marijuana – voters approved it and the city already drafted the rules around it. But those rules, which included limiting the number of allowable facilities to four, didn’t sit well with all of the medical retailers. Many of them have said they came to Traverse City with the understanding that once recreational marijuana was allowed by law, they’d be able to expand their medical model to include recreational sales.
But the original ordinance allowed for four retailers – something most of the 12 or 13 existing medical retailers weren’t happy about. James Rissi is the General Manager at the Nirvana Center. He says, “For them to allow 12 stores (medically), and then immediately turn around once (recreational) goes and only allow four, is ridiculous. I mean that’s the whole point…. Every municipality in the state has done that. That’s the gold standard.”
After the original city ordinance was passed, four medical retailers filed suit, and are still battling the city in court. City Manager Marty Colburn says, “There has been conflict, not just with the city because of the lawsuits, but candidly between the different competitors who want those licenses.”
“It’s interesting. With all the different parties involved it gets complicated very quickly. Because of state law, changing state law, the dynamic of medical marijuana, adult-use. And land use and the amount of facilities. You can see where it gets complicated with all that involved. Then you get the individual competitors who are fighting for that piece of the market,” Colburn says.
Colburn is aware of the complaints from retailers that the city isn’t moving fast enough to change the ordinance. But he says the lawsuit filed by some of those same businesses can share the blame. “It was through that lawsuit by those parties, that asked the court to put a stay on this. So the holdup has not been by the city. It’s been because of the act of the court per the request of those that are filing the lawsuit.”
Worden adds, “The fact is the city was ready to implement adult marijuana in Traverse City. What happened is the current plaintiffs sued to stop it because they didn’t like the ordinance. And they requested and they received a preliminary injunction from the court. That prevents the city from moving forward.”
Colburn says the city’s options are limited. “The city is having to work with the constraints in the order from the court. Even though we recognize the investments by some of the different businesses … the delays are not on the part of the city. The city has worked diligently and in good faith.”
The lawsuits (which have now been condensed into two suits, with the potentially of being condensed again into a single court case) put a stop to all permits – keeping the medical dispensaries in limbo. Now the Ad Hoc committee is revising the ordinance – considering whether to limit the number of recreational facilities in city limits, and what scoring system should be used if the number of applications exceeds the number of permits available. Worden sat in on Thursday’s Ad Hoc Committee meeting. He says, “This is just one man’s opinion, but my sense is they are open to changing the rules. They’re looking very seriously at changing the scoring rubric.”
Colburn agrees changes are coming. “That is being developed as we speak. The Ad Hoc committee has been brought together to review some of the comments that came out from the courts to deem what’s acceptable and what’s not, so we can refine that.”
Colburn says the lawsuits may have had an unintended affect for the retailers. “It’s actually slowed down the process, not accelerated them.” But Worden says the work of the Ad Hoc is actually helping the businesses, because it’s already started. “Certainly if the plaintiffs in the present cases were to prevail, this (revising the ordinance) is the exact process the city would have to go through anyway to come up with a (new) ordinance. So it’s certainly not moving any slower than it would otherwise. It’s actually moving quite a bit faster.”
Colburn says the city isn’t bound to grant a recreational use permit to any business that asks for it. “The state law does allow certain constraints, and part of the job of the city and the City Commission is to establish those, to be able to place this type of activity within the city.”
The pace isn’t fast enough for some retailers. SkyMint says it will have to close, at least temporarily. And others say they’re hurting by not being able to sell recreationally. Rissi says, “My hope is they just allow everyone to operate and let natural competition take place. And the strongest will survive. I think everybody has the same goal of just wanting to operate.”
But the changes won’t come fast enough for the businesses that say they may not make it through the summer. “In all reality not a single one of us are doing very well… every store is losing money on a day to day basis,” Rissi says. “I have no words for it to be honest … there’s no way this is going to get done in a timely manner. It seems like every time we make a little headway we take a few steps back.”