DURAND — A Durand City Council member plans to launch an effort to overturn the city’s existing moratorium on marijuana facilities.
Sixty-one percent of Durand voters supported the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2018, based on county records, but talks among city council members regarding an ordinance regulating marijuana facilities have repeatedly stalled in subsequent years. Acknowledging the need to “do the will of the voters,” Mayor Pro Tem Matt Schaefer plans to initiate a referendary petition — outlined in the city’s charter — to repeal the city’s marijuana moratorium.
If at least 10 percent of Durand’s registered voters sign the petition, the moratorium discussion will return to the city council where council members will have the option to either eliminate the moratorium or place the measure on the ballot. If at least 25 percent of registered voters in the city sign the petition, the moratorium will automatically be repealed, with the stipulation that council members can’t revisit the issue for at least a year.
There were 2,737 registered voters in Durand during the November 2020 election. Based on that count, Schaefer would need approximately 274 signatures to bring the issue back to council and 684 signatures to repeal the moratorium immediately.
All signatures must be collected within a 21-day period, according to the city charter. Schaefer said he’ll likely begin collecting signatures in the next month or two. Residents interested in signing the petition can call Schaefer at (567) 302-0460 or email email@example.com.
“I don’t feel like I have any choice but to go this route at this point, and I believe, I could be wrong, but I believe that the people are behind it,” Schaefer said. “At the end of the day, I’m not (on the city council) to just represent my own views. I represent about 1,500 people. … I am only one of those people out of that group and I have to do my best to try to do things in the best interest of everybody.”
The move to pursue the referendary petition comes after the council failed to advance a draft marijuana facilities ordinance to the city’s planning commission in April, deadlocking in a 3-3 vote. Council member Patrick O’Connor was absent from April’s proceedings, and talks have failed to resume since then, according to Schaefer.
Council members Brian Boggs and Rich Folaron have repeatedly voted against the move, saying they oppose any type of marijuana facilities in the city.
“I, for one, am not going to vote for it in any way shape or form,” Boggs said previously. “I am a solid no vote. … I find it to be morally repugnant.”
“It’s not a moral issue,” Schaefer said via phone July 22. “We’re not changing anything about marijuana law: People are allowed to use it. People are allowed to smoke it. They’re allowed to buy it and grow it. All we’re talking about is whether businesses can be located within the town and take up vacant buildings, of which we have plenty, and contribute to the tax base that benefits all of us.”
Michigan voters in November 2018 approved a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana by a 56-to-44 percent margin. Durand residents supported legalization by a wider margin: 61-to-39 percent.
The move toward legalization came nearly 10 years after Michigan voters first passed the state’s medical marijuana law in 2008.
For medical marijuana facilities, state law requires municipalities to take action to allow businesses or they are automatically banned. In the case of recreational businesses, if a city does not take action to prohibit them, it automatically opts to allow them. The state currently offers recreational licenses for growing, processing, safety compliance, secure transport, retail and microbusinesses, among other categories.
Durand previously opted out of allowing medical marijuana businesses, and in September 2019, the council voted to place a moratorium on recreational facilities, prohibiting the establishment of said facilities within city limits.
In January, Schaefer expressed concerns about the moratorium being too broad because Durand voters overwhelmingly supported the legalization of marijuana, demonstrating a local interest in the industry.
“It’s a logical fallacy to say yes, 60 percent voted for legalizing it,” Boggs said. “Sixty percent voted for approving the law. The law was to give local control to individual cities and municipal districts, (allowing them to make a decision).”
Council members voted 5-2 in March to instruct city engineering firm Wade Trim to write a draft ordinance covering medical and recreational pot for council’s review and continued discussion, with Boggs and Folaron in opposition.
Talks stalled after that, with council members failing to reach the five-vote super majority required to approve the proposed marijuana facilities ordinance.
“Honestly I feel like I owe it to people (to pursue this petition) because it’s something a lot of people feel really strongly about. It’s something that I feel strongly about,” Schaefer said. “We have a shrinking tax base all the time, we’re always talking about how we can bring more businesses into town, and to just exclude a whole industry off of some essentially false moral idea just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Schaefer acknowledged neighboring communities Owosso and Chesaning have received considerable revenue from the industry. He also pointed to the indirect business the industry would generate in Durand.
“We’re not only bringing in the new tax base of the businesses themselves and the new jobs that come with them, but also people (are) coming to town,” Schaefer said. “Right now, there’s people in town that use marijuana recreationally and medically. They have to go buy it somewhere else and when they go do that, they take that money elsewhere.”