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Alpena bans marijuana sales

Park smoking ban sent back to drawing board

ALPENA — The City of Alpena has joined the ranks of many other municipalities in Northeast Michigan who have chosen to prohibit businesses that sell, produce or are otherwise related to marijuana.

It was a decision, however, that will be reviewed once the state establishes rules and regulations on the sale of the drug, expected in the coming months.

Council passed the ordinance to opt out, but also held off action on a second that will ban smoking and other types of marijuana consumption at city owned properties.

At Monday’s meeting, the Alpena Municipal Council had the second reading of an ordinance that will make it unlawful to sell marijuana and other hemp-based products. The drug is legal to use after Michigan voters in November approved Proposal 1. The new law allows local governing bodies to choose whether they want to allow the commercial sale of marijuana in their borders, but governments doing so also “opt out” of a share of state tax revenue generated by the sale of the drug.

Alpena joins a host of other municipalities in opting out, including the Charter Township of Alpena, Hillman, and several others.

There was little discussion on the matter at Monday’s meeting, as much of the conversation was done at a previous meeting. Council members believe more time is needed to see what the state does in terms of regulation and how marijuana impacts communities that allow its sale.

A second ordinance council members considered Monday was sent back to the drawing board.

Council members considered an ordinance that would make it illegal to smoke or “vape” — smoke an electronic cigarette — anything containing marijuana in places such as public parks and beaches. At the recommendation of Alpena Police Chief Joel Jett, the phrase “inhalable device” was added to the language. That sparked some discussion and some questions about whether the term would lead to people who can use the drug for medicinal purposes not being able to do so.

Mayor Matt Waligora said the addition to the new language made the ordinance overly restricting.

“If it is in something like an inhaler that people use for asthma or other things and it isn’t bothering anyone, I don’t see why they should be disallowed, to be honest,” Waligora said.

Jett countered that new devices are being found in Alpena that are being used to mask drug use in public, and he believes including such a general phrase in the ordinance will allow officers to adapt as usage and methods change.

“This is something we will never be able to get out in front of and are always playing catch-up with,” Jett said. “Also, we know the difference in spirit of the law and word of the law. If someone pulls out an inhaler to use, it doesn’t mean we will approach them, but we will monitor the situation and look for other indicators and weird behavior.”

Jett used examples of ordinance language from other municipalities, including one that spelled out most methods of use of tobacco and marijuana. Council members instructed City Attorney Bill Pfeifer to include something similar into Alpena’s ordinance for council to consider at a future meeting.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpeanews.com.