Votes to approve resolution to ban future pot business

Published 8:52 am Wednesday, November 14, 2018

NILES — Niles City Council members are “putting the brakes” on future commercial marijuana industry. On Monday night, they voted 5-3 to enact a resolution that will completely prohibit the facilities within the city. The resolution will not have an impact on the seven medical marijuana licenses which city officials approved late last year.

Councilmember Tim Skalla called on city leaders to have a second reading and vote on the resolution.

“If we opt out of this, we will do what we intended to do and keep control over it,” Skalla said. “If we don’t, we could end up with every gas station peddling [it].”

In the wake of the last week’s midterm election, which saw recreational marijuana legalized under Proposal 1, a number of city council members shared Skalla’s concerns that the city should wait to approve any future business until the state has clarified laws.

VandenHeede agreed with Skalla and said it was a way to give the city time to craft an ordinance that would be in compliance with state laws.

“If we don’t do anything, we don’t know where it is going to end up,” VandenHeede said. “Certainly not everyone is going to be happy with it, but otherwise we are in the dark. I know there’s a lot of people that are thinking we are shutting this down right off the bat, but that is not the intent.”

Councilmember Gretchen Bertschy said she wished to see future marijuana businesses first gain state approval, before asking for city council members to approve their licenses. However, she said the city could also lose out on opportunities if they wait to accept applications.

“I do want us to start accepting applications from businesses, but they have to understand, we don’t have any direction from the state,” Bertschy said. “We just don’t. We’re going to be saying no for a while because we don’t know what the state is going to tell us.”

Mayor Nick Shelton, who can only cast a vote in the event of a tie, advised council members not to vote in favor of the resolution and to discuss the topic when there is more clarity on state laws.

He said it is the job of city leaders to listen to what their constituents want. Based on midterm election results, Shelton said 2,123 city residents voted “yes” on the proposal, while 1,293 said “no.”

Shelton continued and said that voting to approve the resolution was sending a message to potential Niles business owners.

“We are absolutely saying ‘no,’” he said. “You can put the brakes on it, but that does not change the perception of people that are considering Niles for their business. That is a ‘no.’ It’s a harsh ‘no.’ It’s a slap in the face to people who want to take a chance on the city of Niles for a legal product.”

He said direction from the state would eventually be provided and that council members should act on that.

The passage of the resolution was supported by council members Skalla, Georgia Boggs, Daniel VandenHeede, Bob Durm and Bill Weimer. Those who voted in opposition to the resolution included, Bertschy, John DiCostanzo and Charlie McAfee.

Voters in the fourth ward voted last week to replace councilman Skalla with newcomer Jessica Nelson. Durm, who represents the second ward, tied with Travis Timm. Official results are pending. Boggs represents the first ward, and opted not to run for re-election. Nelson will be sworn in Nov. 26

When asked if the city had seen any interest in recreational marijuana business, City Administrator Ric Huff said he could not specify whether business interest was recreational or medical, but described such interest as continuous. If the city council members choose, the resolution can be overturned. Huff said he could see the resolution come up for discussion again, once the state creates clear laws for recreational marijuana.

Residents react

Following the news Monday night, residents across Niles reacted.

Brass Eye business owner Bryan Williams expressed disappointment at the resolution enactment. He said he felt that “an all-out preemptive ban” was not necessary. While council members have said the resolution could be overturned, Williams said he wanted city leaders to take a chance.

“Some city council members have been quoted as saying this is ‘temporary’ although there is no wording in the ordinance that would lead one to believe that,” Williams said. “I hope this is the case and I hope that Niles as a whole can see the benefit and reap the financial rewards. We need to get out ahead of this and lead the way, not cower in the fear of change.”

Williams commended the council members who stood in opposition of the resolution.

Some residents, however, felt that the resolution was warranted and stated that they approved of the council’s decision to enact the resolution.

Niles resident Pamela Murphy called it a good idea to wait for more information.

“With the state not having anything written as law, it would be reckless to adopt something that you have no wording [on],” Murphy said. “I suggest everyone do their own research on the areas that already have legal facilities, so you can go to your local meetings and have your argument heard.”

During Monday night’s meeting, City Attorney Robert Landgraf said the resolution does not negate the fact that recreational marijuana is legalized and could only prohibit commercial establishment.

“The use, transportation and possession in the city of Niles is going to be legal no matter what you do,” he said. “What this motion does is prevent the commercial establishments. What I think the administration has asked is that you give the dust a chance to settle that you give the state a chance to come up with formation and regulations.”

Also Monday night:

• Members of the Niles City Council evaluated the performance of City Administrator Ric Huff. After a brief closed session, council members voted unanimously to approve a 1 percent raise and 1 percent retirement contribution for Huff, beginning at the start of the fiscal year which is Oct. 1. The 1 percent raise means Huff will earn $900 more a year.

• City council members also voted unanimously to approve councilmember Gretchen Bertschy as the new mayor pro tem. Bertschy will pick up the role from councilmember Bob Durm. The mayor pro tem acts as substitute, should the mayor not be able to perform their duties.