Vassar may seek fees, taxes from new marijuana facilities

Vassar Mayor Roger Bacon, left, trades thoughts with Mayor Pro Tem Dan Surgent, second from left, about the idea of licensing and taxing future medical-marijuana-related facilities in the city. Bacon voted in support of an ordinance Monday night that moved Vassar a step closer to possibly approving a law allowing and monitoring such facilities. Surgent voted against the ordinance. City Manager Brian Chapman is on the right. (Photo by Tom Gilchrist)
Vassar Mayor Roger Bacon, left, trades thoughts with Mayor Pro Tem Dan Surgent, second from left, about the idea of licensing and taxing future medical-marijuana-related facilities in the city. Bacon voted in support of an ordinance Monday night that moved Vassar a step closer to possibly approving a law allowing and monitoring such facilities. Surgent voted against the ordinance. City Manager Brian Chapman is on the right. (Photo by Tom Gilchrist)

The Vassar City Council took a step closer to possibly approving an ordinance enabling five types of medical-marijuana-related facilities in the city — with the city licensing and monitoring them, receiving fees and, in some cases, sales taxes.
Council members voted 4-1 on Monday — with Councilman Dan Surgent as the lone opponent — to approve an ordinance that sends the issue to the city planning commission for crafting a final proposed ordinance governing operation of such facilities.
Vassar City Manager Brian Chapman said passage of Monday’s ordinance allows the planning commission to “further research the facilities and draft associated zoning regulations … and return with recommendations, and then city council will ultimately approve or disapprove them.”
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Chapman said. “The planning commission has to further investigate it, and do our due diligence.”
The state Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act allows a city to collect annual fees — along with a share of a new sales tax imposed on one type of facility’s gross retail receipts — if a city approves an ordinance enabling such facilities.
That state law, approved in 2016, requires an annual license for any of five entities: grower, processor, secure transporter, safety compliance facility or provisioning center. The city council would have to adopt an ordinance authorizing one or more of the five facilities before Dec. 15, 2017 if the city hopes to gain fees or tax revenues from them.
Communities enacting such ordinances are authorized to establish an annual license and charge up to $5,000 per facility, and receive a share of the new 3 percent state sales tax imposed on gross retail receipts at provisioning centers, Chapman said.
Chapman said provisioning centers “in my research — looking at the states of Colorado and Washington — can range from your storefront to a doctor’s office or wellness center that just uses (marijuana) as another tool in treating patients.”
Surgent, however, questioned approval of an ordinance enabling the types of medical-marijuana facilities.
“Is this gonna draw an element to Vassar that we don’t want coming to town?” Surgent asked council members at Monday’s meeting.
“I wouldn’t think that way — I would think this would be more professional,” Mayor Roger Bacon answered. “This is going to be more like your doctors, your clinics, that kind of stuff. This is not going to be Billy Joe Bob selling a dime bag on the side.
“I don’t know if you’re gonna have that. We’ve already got that and that’s what we’re trying to phase out. This is actually going to be legit, 100 percent medical marijuana, and we’ve got a whole process — the seed-to-sale process.”
Councilman Mike Damm said proper regulation of those in the medical-marijuana industry is key.
“As a regulated industry, I don’t see it any differently than a Pfizer or an AstraZeneca, or some big major drug manufacturer that makes Norco or Bayer Aspirin, for that matter,” Damm said. “It’s just like any other industry at that point, so I don’t see why we wouldn’t want to allow that kind of an industry into the city.
“As much as I’m against the concept of (marijuana) use in a recreational setting, it is used medicinally and I see no reason why we shouldn’t allow that if it’s properly regulated.”
Vassar Police Chief Ben Guile indicated that preventing medical-marijuana-related crimes is one reason he supports approval of a city ordinance allowing monitoring of medical-marijuana operations in Vassar.
“There are a lot of legitimate (medical-marijuana) business people, but there is a criminal element that has been introduced by the knowledge that there’s a stockpile of medication and there’s a stockpile of cash, usually, in those places, and they become targets,” Guile said.
Police allege one or more culprits raided a marijuana caregiver’s property in Vassar in November of 2016, stealing marijuana plants from the location off Birch Street.
In another incident, prosecutors have charged four people with crimes in connection with the January home invasion of a residence along Hanes Road in Vassar Township, where the 48-year-old male resident reported two males broke into his house, assaulted him and held him at gunpoint and duct-taped him while they took several items from his home.
On Monday in Tuscola County District Court, visiting Judge John Connolly ordered the quartet bound over to stand trial in circuit court after each of them waived their rights to a preliminary exam. The four defendants are: Brandon Earl Smallwood, 38, of Otter Lake; Lance Tyler Swinehart, 19, of Leonard; Jennifer Renee Ellison, 29, of Otter Lake; and Lindsay Mae Irish, 23, of Mayville.
Any ordinance approved by council would not regulate about eight existing medical-marijuana caregivers in Vassar, a city of about 2,600 residents. The caregivers are allowed to grow up to 12 marijuana plants each for five patients in a secure location, including a caregiver’s home. Those caregivers started up after state voters approved the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act in 2008.
Bacon said approval of the ordinance, though, could “end up closing these other (eight) guys up a little bit.” He added that if medical-marijuana patients have the opportunity to buy the drug from a doctor at a clinic, “most people are going to take that option.”
“Can we prevent future home growers or residentially-based grow operations from coming in?” Damm asked.
“That’s what we have to check on,” Chapman said.
“That’s my hope is that if we have this (ordinance), we can say ‘We have a place for this, but it needs to be done this way, in this area and, no, you can’t do this in (a specified) residential community,’” Damm said. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to do much with the established ones, because they’re grandfathered in, or until they’re done.
“But my hope is that we can prevent more of these from coming into residential communities.”
Chapman said the planning commission could pinpoint potential districts in the city for medical-marijuana facilities.
“Well we hashed it out last month — I guess we’re done hashin’,” said Surgent following council members’ debate and before Monday night’s vote — his choice of words drawing chuckles from several council and audience members.
“Hash” is short for “hashish,” the concentrated resin from female hemp plants that is smoked, chewed or drunk for its intoxicating effect.
Bacon said approval of an ordinance regulating one or more of the five types of facilities will allow Chief Guile and other officers to better monitor those facilities’ operations.
“He can go in and do inspections, and he can do all the things we were hoping we could have done on some of these other places,” Bacon said. “These are actually requirements and things you can actually do under this (ordinance).
“This makes it a lot easier for me to approve something like this. Is anything perfect? No. But it’s a whole lot better than what it was before, and we’ve got some tools to work with to give both the city and the police department.”
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com

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