Opponents of allowing a marijuana dispensary in Highland won a decisive victory in Tuesday’s election, but the decision still remains with the city council.
The advisory referendum on Tuesday’s ballot as to whether Highland should allow a dispensary in town was voted down 1,047 to 709. However, as the referendum was non-binding, the question still remains with the city council whether to follow it.
The Highland City Council voted Nov. 4 to allow permits for marijuana dispensaries in Highland, under strict restrictions for location, hours and other requirements. Public reaction was strong, with standing-room-only crowds and three hours of public commentary on the issue. Speakers in city council meetings were largely opposed to the measure, while an unofficial online poll of more than 200 Highland citizens came down 3-to-1 in favor of allowing a dispensary.
At the time, councilman John Hipskind was opposed to the measure, while other councilmen voted in favor. Councilwoman Peggy Bellm stated marijuana is legal “whether we like it or not,” and she didn’t want to make it harder for people with a medicinal need to acquire it.
In December, the council voted to send it to a referendum on the March 17 ballot. While it is nonbinding, Highland Mayor Joe Michaelis said he would abide by the results of the referendum.
“I think it was handled appropriately by letting the people give the council direction in what the community wants,” Michaelis said. “I personally hope that the council will follow what decision the voters made.”
Hipskind said he believes Highland “deserves to have its vote on the referendum honored pending future developments.”
“I am open to revisiting the issue after we see how it affects other similar communities,” he said. “We will be monitoring this closely to ensure that we do what is best for Highland.”
Other city council members could not be immediately reached for comment.
Ordinarily, the four councilmen vote, and the mayor only votes if there is a tie.
“If it came to that, I would vote no, because I think we should be respectful to the majority of the community as to what direction they want us to go,” Michaelis said.
In the meantime, the original ordinance stands, which includes treating marijuana similarly to alcohol and tobacco. It requires marijuana cannot be smoked in public or sold to minors, in line with state law, and restricts the locations where a dispensary can operate.
At the moment, there has been one inquiry to locate a dispensary in Highland, but no applications have been filed, according to City Manager Mark Latham.
Highland City Council sets up two special sessions
In other news, the Highland City Council has scheduled two special sessions in coming days. The council will meet at noon Friday to vote on extending the city’s proclamation of emergency regarding the coronavirus pandemic. Residents may comment at the session, which will be held in the council’s chambers in city hall.
The council will also hold a special session at 6 p.m. March 30 regarding the 2020 budget.