OWOSSO — Having previously approved medical marijuana and the use of recreational marijuana in private, the Owosso City Council is now deciding whether to allow recreational marijuana businesses in the city.
During Monday’s regular council meeting, City Manager Nathan Henne outlined the options from which city officials must choose by Dec. 17 — or state law will allow recreational marijuana facilities automatically, with no caps or zoning rules.
“Cities and townships are required to talk about this. If they don’t, they will automatically allow them,” said Henne, adding he was not making a recommendation on whether to allow the facilities.
Council members didn’t put the question to a vote Monday, but they did direct Henne to provide possible dates to conduct a public forum on the subject.
Henne noted that in November 2018, when the question was on the ballot statewide, 58 percent of Owosso residents who voted supported the move to allow recreational marijuana. The following month, council members imposed a moratorium on recreational marijuana licensing to give the state time to formulate rules. The moratorium, a temporary ban, expires Dec. 17.
In July, the state released emergency rules, giving municipalities time to decide. The rules create 10 licenses, including the same ones available for medical marijuana plus five new licenses: event organizer, temporary marijuana event, designated consumption establishment (club), excess marijuana grower and microbusiness.
A microbusiness, which Henne said he believes will be popular in municipalities that approve recreational marijuana facilities, allows holders to possess 150 plants, and do all of the sorting, packaging, transportation and selling themselves.
An event organizer could present marijuana-related events in an approved location. An excess marijuana grower license would allow the holder of several Class C licenses to grow even more marijuana than their Class C licenses permit.
A large difference between the medical and recreational marijuana rules is that, unlike medical licenses, they do not require recreational marijuana license holders to show they are capitalized with $200,000 to $500,000, depending on the license.
“That’s a big change,” Henne said.
However, there is a significant annual surcharge for recreational marijuana licenses, ranging from $1,000 for an event organizer to $40,000 for a Class C grower.
Recreational marijuana clubs would have to fit with Owosso’s zoning rules, Henne said, and be subject to multiple rules regarding layout, smoke-free area, ventilation and other particulars.
Cities such as Owosso would be capped at collecting $5,000 per year for licenses — the same as for medical marijuana licenses.
“We’re up against the clock, but you can extend the moratorium,” Henne said, reiterating that if the council doesn’t act, “they can put ’em (receational marijuana facilities) wherever they want.”
Mayor Chris Eveleth suggested sending the issue to the planning commission for public input and discussion. Henne said he believes most of the decision-making will be done by council members. He said he sees the council voting on whether to allow recreational marijuana businesses, perhaps after taking public input and, if the move is approved, planning commissioners laying out the procedures.
Council member Janae Fear, who served on the planning commission when it considered medical marijuana, said she believes the decision-making process will be fairly lengthy and thus require an extension of the moratorium.
Henne advised waiting to see how far the council can advance from now until Dec. 17 before extending the moratorium.
He said he wasn’t expecting a final decision from council Monday.
“I just wanted to start the conversation,” Henne said.
Fear said she believes the public should be educated on the city’s options regarding recreational marijuana businesses before council members put it up for a vote. Henne is expected to provide potential dates for a public forum at next month’s council session.
Larry Johnson, director of the Shiawassee County Health Department, addressed the council Monday at Henne’s request. Johnson said now that the state has passed recreational marijuana, his department is working to ensure the public is educated on the importance of keeping pot out of the hands of children, and refraining from smoking and driving.
In May, the council approved an amendment to the city’s public nuisance ordinance that makes consuming marijuana in public illegal but allows possession and use on private property. The amendment makes purchasing and possessing certain paraphernalia, including marijuana pipes, legal.
With the passage of the amendment, the council effectively decriminalized recreational marijuana possession and use within the city, as long as it is not in one of several defined “public places.” It is now legal in Owosso to possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana in a person’s home and have up to 12 marijuana plants.
Last year, the council approved medical marijuana facilities, allowing an unlimited number of growers, processors, safety compliance facilities and secure transporter licenses to set up shop inside the city limits. The facilities must be located in industrial-zoned areas.
No more than four medical marijuana provisioning centers (similar to pharmacies) are allowed in Owosso. They can be located in any B-1 through B-4 commercial districts and industrial zoned areas, but must be at least 100 feet from houses and 200 feet from schools.
Henne said currently there are no operational provisioning centers in Owosso.