Why Bay City allows marijuana sales and Midland doesn’t

It’s almost April 20, and you might not know what that means. 

Before marijuana was legalized in any capacity, the 4/20 date symbolized a counterculture movement. Now, with marijuana legalized in 18 states, it’s becoming somewhat of a commercial holiday. Marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, but on April 1, the House of Representatives passed a bill to decriminalize marijuana. It’s currently moving through the Senate. 

In Nov. 2018, Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Despite that, the statute allows cities and towns to restrict or ban the sale of marijuana in their communities. Here in mid-Michigan, we have a mixed bag of regulations.

Revenues collected from adult use marijuana permits in Bay City totalled just over $560,000 in the 2021 fiscal year.
Bay City allows the sale of marijuana while the City of Midland doesn’t. We asked an official in each city to explain the decision-making process for their respective community.

Two important notes to remember: The focus here is on the sale of marijuana, not its use or the growing of marijuana plants, which are both legal across the state within a certain range. Second, only the cities are being discussed – not Bay County or Midland County as a whole. 

Bay City sees economic development opportunity

“I think the writing was kind of on the wall as we went through the different hearings and things like that,” says Terry Moultane, planning and zoning manager for Bay City. “There was the desire to do it.”

The minority in Bay City who opposed the sale argued that marijuana was a gateway drug or that law enforcement resources would be strained enforcing the increased usage and nuance. Those who supported the sale pointed to potential medical benefits, and they cited tax revenue in Colorado. 
Terry Moultane is the planning and zoning manager for the City of Bay City.
“What some of the city commissioners started to recognize was that it did provide an economic development opportunity for Bay City because there are a lot of sites that could be used – reuse of buildings or brand new sites,” says Moultane.

Revenues collected from adult use marijuana permits in Bay City totalled just over $560,000 in the 2021 fiscal year.

At first, the city permitted only five licenses for retail dispensaries. In order to see more economic development, however, that number was eventually increased to 25, and now 50. As of March 29, 18 recreational marijuana licenses have been issued to Bay City businesses with 21 more applications pending approval. For medical marijuana, 12 licenses have been issued to businesses, with 14 applications pending approval. 

“There was a desire once they opted in to help simplify the process,” says Moultane, “and I know some communities, they actually tied themselves in a knot in my own opinion, and I have heard that some of these communities have been in the courts trying to address why they went about it. We didn’t have that pushback or that challenge because one, we allowed enough licenses that we never got into that competitive thing.”

Initially, many Bay County applicants didn’t understand the licensing process to open a commercial operation. Moultane pointed to a few businesses outside the city that had opened up illegally under an insufficient ordinance and had to correct issues with the state. Bay City wanted to avoid that confusion.

“If you're doing the state application, you just simply do it for the city of Bay City and then we have a valid application,” says Moultane.
18 recreational marijuana licenses have been issued to Bay City businesses.
Once Bay City decided to allow the sale of marijuana, the work of creating an ordinance to regulate it began. Moultane leveraged Kalamazoo’s marijuana ordinance as a guide for creating Bay City’s. The first ordinance to be written was for medical marijuana, which was first introduced in 2017. 

“It was what I would call a standalone ordinance. … It wasn’t part of the zoning chapter,” says Moultane. “All the information pertaining to separation from a church or separation from a school, that was all contained within the ordinance. … The planning commission really had an inactive role; the city commission took all that ordinance as one and adopted it.”

Recreational marijuana follows a similar ordinance, first introduced in 2019. There are, however, distinct differences.

“For example, the ability to have a special license for various activities was allowed in the new legislation for recreational marijuana, and the City selected only one of the special licenses being available within the city and that was the excess growers license,” says Moultane. “Both the medical and recreational were allowed as a permitted use in the correct zoning district.”

The commercial use of marijuana – for medical or recreational sale – is banned in the city of Midland.Midland cites low demand and easy access in neighboring communities

Referring to the statewide ballot proposal in Nov. 2018, “The vote in our community, especially in the city of Midland, says no,” says James Branson, city attorney for Midland. “It wasn’t a large margin, but it was still a no.”

The commercial use of marijuana – for medical or recreational sale – is banned in the city of Midland. Private use is still legal by state law. 

“[The ban] is not forever, by any means. … If there’s a huge issue on anything, marijuana or not, then it gets addressed,” says Branson. Based on community input, Branson says the sale of marijuana “doesn’t seem to be that important to go through with commercialization.” 

That means, however, if there were enough interest, more effort would be directed toward addressing those concerns. The issue would need to be taken to the city council and a majority vote would need to be passed. Then the construction of an ordinance would begin, along with planning and police training. 

“The creation of an ordinance is huge, and [so is] policing – the enforcement of it,” says Branson. “There’s a lot of work to do for something that’s that new.”

And with so much availability in Bay City and Mt. Pleasant, there seems to be little need for Midland to have its own commercial facilities. Midland’s city council is currently considering another route, though – permitting the transportation of marijuana in Midland and allowing testing facilities.

“We’re still in the throes of these discussions,” says Branson. 
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Crystal Gwizdala.

Crystal Gwizdala is a freelance writer with a focus on health and science. As a lifelong resident of the Tri-Cities, she loves sharing how our communities are overcoming challenges. Crystal is also a serial hobbyist — her interests range from hiking or drawing to figuring out how to do a handstand. Her work can be seen in Wide Open Eats, The Xylom, Woman & Home, and The Detroit Free Press. To see what Crystal’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter @CrystalGwizdala.