Orchard City moves forward with pot study recommendations

By Hank Lohmeyer


The Orchard City Town Board will move ahead with an expanded study of the types of marijuana businesses that could be allowed in town to provide government funding following town board action on July 12.

The town board's Cannabis Revenue Committee will also continue looking into six types of marijuana businesses, including retail shops, that could provide money to local government. Unspecified uses of money from licensing and taxing marijuana businesses would extend beyond just the maintenance of town roads.

In addition, work is likely to begin immediately on repealing the town's two ordinances banning commercial marijuana businesses and replacing them with a temporary moratorium.

The town board's action came on a split vote with Trustee Craig Fuller voting against the board's action to approve the committee's recommendations and proceed with implementing them.

Trustee Dick Kirkpatrick was absent from the meeting and did not vote. Voting in favor were trustees Gynee Thomassen and Tom Huerkamp who comprise the Cannabis Revenue Committee and who wrote the recommendations being voted on, and also trustees Bob Eckels and Gary Tollefson, who cast their votes with caveats.

Eckels said that he was voting in favor of the recommendations in order to bring the issue before a proposed future referendum.

Tollefson said his approval vote was conditioned on holding public hearings on repeal of the town's current commercial marijuana businesses bans. (Public hearings are already required by state law.)

It took a contentious and confusing series of motions and discussions before the town board finally approved moving forward with the committee's recommendations. The business item on the agenda was stated as "approval of cannabis committee recommendations." An objection on a point of order was raised from the audience: the business item was not designated as an "action item" on the agenda disallowing approval. The point of order was dismissed.

Trustees then approved a motion to have the report read into the minutes.

Trustee Fuller then made a motion to not approve recommendations contained in Thomassen's and Huerkamp's report. He stated there is no need at this point to repeal the town's current ordinances banning commercial marijuana businesses. He explained that local voters had already expressed disapproval of the state constitution amendments on marijuana. He added that the town's current ordinances against marijuana businesses could be repealed at a future point (if a local vote so directed).

Huerkamp asserted that repealing the current ordinance bans would be a lengthy process with a first reading possible next month at the earliest.

Fuller said that the repeal process of 60 to 90 days "is not an extensive amount of time." He added that "we need the ordinances on our books to keep (commercial) growers out" and advised leaving the ordinances in place.

Fuller's motion died for lack of a second.

Huerkamp then moved that the committee report be approved. He asserted that the report's intent is to examine revenue streams available to the town from marijuana businesses.

Fuller said that if the people want marijuana businesses they can initiate a ballot issue themselves. He said, "We are here to represent them, not ourselves. The town is not in a financial crisis," he said. "Once you open this Pandora's Box it won't be shut. It will be here forever."

Then, making a direct appeal, Fuller said, "I ask my fellow trustees to consider the ramifications of what we are about to do. You can't go back."

At that point the motion was stated as approving the committee's recommendations and to proceed with implementing them, and the vote was taken.