Harrisville first to allow marijuana stores

HARRISVILLE — The City of Harrisville will be the first municipality in Northeast Michigan to allow recreational marijuana to be sold within its limits.

City aldermen on Monday publicly acknowledged they would support the voters of Harrisville — who in November narrowly voted in favor of the statewide ballot proposal legalizing the drug — by allowing recreational marijuana in the city.

Aldermen voted unanimously Monday to hire an outside firm to help officials craft a new zoning ordinance that would allow and regulate marijuana businesses in city limits.

Most voters across the region broke with those statewide and voted against the proposal to legalize marijuana, and many Northeast Michigan governments have already voted to prohibit sales in their boundaries, at least until the state establishes regulations for marijuana businesses. The new state law allows governments to prohibit sales, but, in so doing, they forego a share of state tax on mariuana sales. The state Senate Fiscal Agency estimates those taxes will generate $738 million over the next five years.

Harrisville is the first in the area to say they want such businesses — and the money that comes with them.

The aldermen’s decision was met with a round of applause from about a dozen community members who attended Monday’s meeting.

Alderman Jim Ferguson was the first to express his support for recreational marijuana, saying Harrisville needs to stop watching what everybody else does and be ahead of the curve.

“It’s business in this town. It’s state revenue coming in. I think we need to be on board with it — medical and recreational,” Ferguson said.

Mayor Jeffrey Gehring said the decision is a big step for the city that will put Harrisville ahead of other municipalities in the area.

“I’m all about building our city,” he said. “I think that this would be a good step forward and a building block for other enterprises to come in and see that Harrisville is going to do this.”

Alderman Mike Baird pointed out that communities across Alcona County voted against legalizing recreational marijuana, except for Greenbush Township and Harrisville.

“I will tell you, I voted no on the election for it, but I am going to support it 100 percent, because that’s what the people that we represent asked us to do,” he said.

The city will hire Tom Reif, of the firm Michigan Municipal Cannabis Consultants, to develop an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance related to the sale of both medical and recreational marijuana. Harrisville will pay the firm $5,000 from the city’s general fund.

Reif previously met with members of the city council and the city’s Planning Commission in February.

Reif on Monday told The News that, in addition to the state excise tax income, Harrisville could receive funding through property taxes and could also charge an annual permitting fee of up to $5,000 on marijuana businesses.

Under the new state law, Reif said the excise tax on medical marijuana will disappear, while the excise tax on recreational marijuana will be levied at 10 percent. Of that 10 percent, 15 percent goes to cities, villages and townships that allow recreational marijuana facilities, 15 percent goes to counties that allow recreational marijuana facilities, 35 percent goes to K-12 education, and the other 35 percent goes to roads and bridges.

A number of municipalities in Northeast Michigan have already decided to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana, including Alpena, Alpena Township, Lincoln, the Hillman and Rogers City.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.