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Council works to allow more medical marijuana shops

ALPENA — The Alpena Municipal Council is working to remove a cap on how many medical marijuana provisioning centers can operate in the city.

Council members voted 3-2 to direct city staff to draft an ordinance that would undo the limit, with Mike Nowak and Danny Mitchell voting against the motion to undo the cap, while Mayor Matt Waligora, Mayor Pro Tempore Cindy Johnson, and Councilwoman Amber Hess voted in favor of it.

The ordinance currently in effect limits to two the number of provisioning centers allowed in the city, and provisioning centers are not allowed downtown. Two provisioning centers have been granted licenses but have not yet opened.

The topic of creating a new ordinance and allowing more provisioning centers came up at Monday’s council meeting.

The city intends to schedule an open workshop to discuss the matter in depth.

It has been less than a year since the Alpena Municipal Council adopted its ordinance allowing medical marijuana to be sold in the city, but the council directed City Attorney Bill Pfeifer and City Manager Rachel Smolinski to draft a new ordinance to consider.

The first reading of the ordinance and a possible vote could come in May, Pfeifer told the council.

The current ordinance caused a stir when several applicants, who weren’t selected, challenged the fairness of the scoring system used to determine who got a license.

One applicant, Neighborhood Provisions, Currier LLC, started litigation against the city, but dropped the lawsuit last month.

Hess said doing away with the cap would take the decision-making process away from the city and leave it up to consumers.

“I think the market will work itself out,” Hess said. “The customers will decide where they want to go to make their purchase and who to support.”

Johnson, who was for the cap last year, said the current system isn’t working and the scoring rubric is not one that worked well. She is now in favor of allowing more medical marijuana shops to open if they choose.

“It is clear to me we have built an impossible step in the process with the rubric,” she said.

Nowak supported having two provisioning centers, but spoke against adding more on Monday.

“Yes, we had a few bumps and we got through it,” Nowak said. “I don’t see any reason to increase it right now. Let’s see how the ones that are opening work out, before we blow everything up.”

Waligora was never in favor of a cap and remains against it. He said that, when the zoning was done, the city placed heavy restrictions on where the provisioning centers could open.

For that reason, he doesn’t anticipate an issue of having too many.

“We really narrowed it down where they can be, I don’t think it will be an issue,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to be an issue in other communities that don’t have a cap.”

Mitchell made it clear he isn’t in favor of allowing more shops to open. He said any future decision should wait until the first shops open, and their impact is reviewed.

“We don’t know what problems we might have when they open,” he said. “If we open this up, and things don’t go well, there is no putting the genie back into the bottle.”

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