Niles rolls out proposed medical marijuana rules

Niles rolls out proposed medical marijuana rules
credit:South Bend Tribune

NILES — Rules for medical marijuana businesses in Niles could possibly scuttle the proposal for a dispensary at the historic former post office downtown.

That and other details emerged Monday night as city council members got their first look at two proposed ordinances.

One spells out state and local rules for the types of medical marijuana businesses and how they can operate. The other one details local zoning rules for such businesses.

City officials have been drafting the rules since the council decided earlier this year to opt in to Michigan’s new commercial structure for medical marijuana.

Any dispensary wanting to locate downtown could “run into some difficulties” because of state law, said Community Development Director Sanya Vitale, who presented the proposed ordinances to the council.

The law prohibits a marijuana facility within 1,000 feet of a school or library. The location of the Niles District Library at Main and Seventh streets “takes out a good swath of the downtown” for a potential provisioning center, or dispensary, she said.

A thousand feet is roughly the length of three football fields.

A large tobacco retailer offered last spring to purchase the old post office at Main and Fourth streets, with the idea of using it as a medical marijuana dispensary. The proposal has been in limbo pending the city’s adoption of medical marijuana ordinances, and also after a possible alternative use for the site was pitched by a housing developer.

Council member Tim Skalla asked if state law might change to shorten that thousand-foot distance.

Vitale said it’s a possibility, and if it does, the ordinance could be amended.

Proposed rules would also limit the number of dispensaries in the city to two.

Council member Daniel VandenHeede wondered how the city arrived at that figure.

Vitale said the city used Kalamazoo’s medical marijuana rules for guidance in drafting its own, and that the larger city had allowed for two dispensaries per 10,000 residents. Niles has a population of about 11,600, so officials decided to start with allowing two dispensaries.

The city wouldn’t cap the number of other types of medical marijuana businesses it would allow. The other types of businesses include growers, processors, secure transporters and safety compliance facilities.All such businesses would be relegated to the industrial park, except for dispensaries, which could potentially locate in parts of the downtown or in the 11th Street commercial corridor, Vitale said.

One key part of the plan, though, said Vitale, is for the city to expand its industrial zone east of Eighth Street, north of Wayne Street and east to Terminal.

The industrial park is almost at capacity and the city wants to limit medical marijuana operations there to just two, she said. But there are “several available properties in that area outside the industrial park, including the Simplicity complex” if council approves more industrial land.

All requests for medical marijuana facility licenses would go through the special land use process with the planning commission, which includes notification of nearby neighbors and a public hearing, said Vitale.

Proposed rules also spell out application fees. State law allows municipalities to collect up to $5,000 in fees per application, said Vitale. The city would charge an initial, nonrefundable fee of $2,500 in order to grant a provisional license. If the state then issues a license, the applicant would pay the city up to another $2,500 to begin operations.

Operation rules detailed in the ordinance include plans for security, surveillance, ventilation, odor control, waste disposal, hazardous materials, and even electrical usage. Vitale noted the city is seeking to prohibit use of the word marijuana, or variations of it, in signage, as well as depictions of marijuana leaves or plants. One provision would prohibit the visibility of activity, so, for instance, paraphernalia or sales of medical marijuana couldn’t be visible through windows.

Council members were encouraged to pore over the proposed ordinances and make a list of questions or changes. Vitale said she hopes to have a revised draft before the council for a first reading at its next meeting Oct. 23.