By Jim Bloch
If you had your fingers crossed for legal marijuana sales in Port Huron this summer, uncross them.
The city council took action on June 8 to extend the ban on marijuana establishments in the city from June 30 until Sept. 30.
In January, the council embarked on a fact-finding visit to two medical marijuana shops in Ferndale, one of which was in the process of opening a recreational weed outlet.
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Freed called the tours “surreal” but valuable and Mayor Pauline Repp concurred.
“I learned a lot,” Freed said. “Every stereotype and stigma I had were just blown away. It’s amazing the professional operations we toured. We’ve been working with those communities and those industry experts to find out what works and what we could do better.”
Freed said the city will bring in cannabis business experts to talk to the planning commission so they’ll have a good grasp on what’s happening elsewhere in the state. The commission will be provided with ordinances from other communities, including Ferndale, to see how they are regulating the new marijuana businesses.
“Every community is different,” Freed said. “Although we appreciate the help of other communities, our ordinances will be particular to our community. The real meat and potatoes of an ordinance are drafted at the planning commission level.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, with its prohibitions against in-person meetings, put a crimp in gathering public input on the marijuana issue.
“We think electronic meetings are the same — they are not,” said Freed. “They disenfranchise people who may not have the technology or a Zoom account.”
Freed suggested that senior citizens may fall into that group — and seniors are a key constituency for the therapeutic use of cannabis.
“We want to make sure their voices are heard,” said Freed.
Freed said he feared being accused of “kicking the can down the road — first it was July, now it’s September.”
But the reason for the delay was the pandemic and “the inability to hold true public hearings.”
The issue will gather speed now.
“You’re going to see a lot of action over the next three months to get those work sessions started, briefings for our legal team, briefings from business experts,” Freed said. “But it really needs to be a community effort to make this good for our community.
Councilmember Scott Worden asked for additional details.
“What we’ve done for the planning commission is we want to give them some idea of how other communities in the state have done it,” said Freed. “We have an ordinance from Ferndale — that’s a good community to look at — and I believe we have three other communities. Here’s what’s going on in other communities. Here’s what’s working. Here’s what’s not working. We didn’t just want to start from scratch. There is a lot of good examples around the state we can build upon.”
Worden said that the community will have multiple questions, such as how many licenses will be available and where will the retail shops be permitted to operate. He said that equality of opportunity will be important in terms of who gets the licenses; he wanted to be sure that a sufficient proportion of marijuana businesses would be minority-owned.
“All those questions are exactly why the planning commission will be having numerous work sessions,” said Freed.