WILLIAMSBURG — A sharply divided Whitewater Township Board of Trustees agreed on one thing — holding off on accepting marijuana business applications, at least for now.
The township was originally set to start accepting them Friday following a September decision to do so, but at a recent meeting trustees decided to wait until at least mid-December while a subcommittee works out criteria for evaluating applications.
The decision to accept applications in the first place rankled some township residents who wanted a vote on whether to ban nonmedical marijuana businesses in Whitewater.
That question was on the ballot for Aug. 3, but 13th Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer ruled the election violated state law because no candidates were on the ballot. He ruled a day before the election, and after hundreds of absentee voters already weighed in.
Northpoint Farms, a shuttered cherry processing plant seeking to sell to a marijuana grower and processor, filed the challenge.
Township residents aren’t going to have the chance to vote again until August 2022, and township Supervisor Ron Popp asked for a moratorium on taking any applications until then.
Plus, the township’s zoning ordinances determining where the businesses can go aren’t done yet, said Kim Mangus, Whitewater’s planning commission chairwoman.
“Moving forward right now without having the zoning ordinances in place is reckless and irresponsible,” she said.
Whitewater Trustee Della Benak said the board could extend the hold on accepting applications if the ad hoc committee isn’t ready by then. And the township was advised against an all-out moratorium, she added.
At issue is whether any marijuana business licenses the township approves would stand, even if township voters agreed to ban nonmedical marijuana businesses. Thomas Meagher, an attorney for the township, voiced the same concern in August, and Popp on Tuesday pointed out Whitewater’s ordinance requires the township to approve or deny an application within 120 days.
Trustees deadlocked on Popp’s request for a longer moratorium, voting 2-2 with trustee Paul Hubbell abstaining — without a majority, a motion by a local government board fails.
Hubbell’s brother Chris co-owns Northpoint Farms. Both Paul and Chris Hubbell have repeatedly insisted there’s no conflict of interest, as Paul has no ties to the business.
The township also sought an opinion from its attorney, although the attorney-client privileged document is under wraps and trustees didn’t agree on what the attorney actually said.
Paul Hubbell pointed to the continuing outcry from some township residents about what they argued is at least a perceived conflict. He said he would abstain from any votes pertaining to medical marijuana until there was agreement that he had no conflict.
“I’m trying to prove what’s right to the people that I represent, but evidently that’s not good enough for the people that are here, so that’s my decision and I’m sticking to it,” he said.
That was prior to a failed 2-2 vote to use the attorney assigned by the township’s liability insurer in defending against Northpoint Farms’ lawsuit, and not township attorney Robert Patterson and his firm as well. Township Clerk Cheryl Goss said Patterson would still be the township’s attorney but she suggested pulling him off the lawsuit in response to complaints of legal bills exceeding $50,000.
Trustees also recently agreed to trim the total number of medical and nonmedical marijuana business licenses the township would award, Popp said after the meeting. After hearing concerns over the number the township originally agreed to, trustees approved Goss and Benak’s suggestion to cut them from 150 medical and 150 nonmedical cannabis growing permits to 50 and 60, respectively. That brings the total allowable plants across all growers down to 104,500, from the previous limit of 280,000. Limits to five medical and five nonmedical marijuana processors, while allowing no retailers or any other business type, remain unchanged.