By Coner Segren
The Flint City Council voted 5-2 Monday to postpone voting on whether to adopt three ordinances regulating marijuana businesses in the city. The vote came after several residents raised concerns about potential marijuana dispensaries proximity to residential areas.
“If there is anything that’s passed, this needs to be solely in a commercial area, not a residential area,” said Michele Igram, an 8th Ward resident. “and the zoning is going to affect every single residential area in the city of Flint if this is passed. So, we are asking [the city council] to table these ordinances.”
Of particular concern to residents was a specific prospective recreational marijuana business called Holistic Vibes, LLC opening on Colchester and Miller roads near residential properties.
Recreational marijuana was legalized in the state of Michigan through a ballot initiative in 2018. Since then, the city of Flint has had to govern marijuana facilities through emergency ordinance.
The three ordinances up for vote on Monday were intended to make the emergency ordinance into law. The current ordinance states that marijuana facilities cannot be within 300 ft. of a residential zoning district.
To receive a marijuana license, applicants must have a public hearing before the Flint Planning and Zoning Commission, who notify residents near the facility so they may attend and voice any opposition or grievances. That process would be the same under these new ordinances.
Should the city fail to adopt a marijuana ordinance before April, the city will default to the state ordinance regarding marijuana. Several council members attempted to assuage residents’ concerns by pointing out that the Flint city ordinance up for adoption is stricter than the state version.
“This ordinance affects the entire city. So, keeping that in mind, if we don’t have an ordinance from the city it goes to what the state says and the state is more lenient, to my understanding, than what the city has,” said councilperson Santino Guerra (3rd Ward) during discussion. “Recreational marijuana is gonna happen one way or another. So, delaying this ordinance leans way to more discretion at the state. So, it allows it to be in more locations”
The contention over the Miller Road facility is that it has taken advantage of a “grandfather” clause in city law designed for medical dispensaries, meaning it received its medical license and public hearing prior to the adoption of any existing ordinance, and so is not subject to the laws of the ordinance, such as the 300 ft. from residential property requirement.
However, the facility must still have a public hearing before the Planning Commission to obtain a license for recreational marijuana sales. The Planning Commission is where the ultimate determination of whether the facility can operate in that location and sell medicinal marijuana will be made. The hearing for the facility was postponed at the time of the council meeting and occurred March 10.
Some residents came in support of the ordinance. Adam Long, a resident of the 8th Ward who described himself as a social equity advocate, said he thought the ordinance brings much-needed change to the existing marijuana ordinance.
“I’m hoping that the vote turns out positive because of the social equity exemption that’s been wrote in which is one of the main changes [to the existing ordinance].” Social equity, he said, is a program in the state designed to give exemptions to areas and cities most disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. This includes things like discounts on licenses and fees for people impacted by marijuana convictions or who have been caregivers under the medical marijuana program.
While some city councilmembers disagreed on the efficacy of postponing the vote, all signaled their support for the residents protesting the opening of the specific facility on Colchester Road. In a resolution near the end of the night, the council voted unanimously to affix their names to a letter in support of the residents that they may bring before the Planning Commission.
Councilman Maurice Davis (2nd Ward) was particularly vocal in support of their cause. “The residents should have a say in their community—they live there. A lot of people making decisions don’t live in the residents’ neighborhood. They know what they want to do and we should respect that,” he said after the vote.
He also indicated his support for any future vote on marijuana ordinances if contingent on it allowing the residents to have their say in the process.
In other council business…Bishop Airport authority appointments
The council also attended to some other city business over the night. The council approved two appointments made by Mayor Neeley to the Bishop International Airport Authority. The appointees were Wyntis Hall and Valeria J. Conerly Moon. While they were approved by wide margins, there was some pushback to the appointments over the fact that neither appointee is a Flint resident.
For the Bishop Airport Authority, the City of Flint is able to make four appointments and the county makes four, with the ninth seat a swing seat that rotates between the county and the city every three years. Councilwoman Monica Galloway specifically voted against both appointments on the basis that the city of Flint has not appointed anyone to that seat in many years.
“Because these are the first two appointments that have happened in some time, I don’t think it’s happened since I’ve been on the council, I can’t support people that are outside the city of Flint.”
Councilman Herbert Winfrey, however, reasoned that since the airport isn’t solely utilized by Flint residents, the seats governing it should be open to residents from all over the county.
EVM Staff Writer Coner Segren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.