Smoke shops are cropping up in Superior and the city’s Plan Commission discussed potential actions it could take to limit proliferation of the businesses.
Smoke shops, vaping, CBD — it’s everywhere right now, said Jason Serck, economic development, port and planning director. In addition to new stand-alone stores that have or will open this year, he said the products are available in a variety of stores around town.
“I guess I want to kind of narrow it down a little if you want to do anything at all,” Serck told the commissioners. He said he would have to do some research to determine what, if anything, the city could do because over the last eight years, the Legislature has taken away some local controls.
For example, Serck said, Superior couldn’t raise the age to buy tobacco to match Duluth’s restrictions on selling tobacco products to people younger than 21.
“It’s kind of reminiscent of when you had to be 18 to drink in Wisconsin and you had to be 21 in Duluth,” Commissioner Dennis Dalbec said. “It’s the same thing. I’m sure they’re looking at bringing over that age group from 18 to 20.”
Council President Brent Fennessey said he has concerns about Superior becoming a hub for smoke shops.
“I like the concept of this just because what we’re seeing now is every time there’s a vacant building, we’re seeing a smoke shop pop up,” Fennessey said. He said it makes sense for city officials to dig in to see what the options are, whether that’s controlling the number of licenses or some other method.
The city has limited other businesses before — payday lenders and adult entertainment — through zoning ordinances.
“We have a dispersion ordinance on worms stands, earthworms,” Mayor Jim Paine said. “I thought it was ridiculous, but apparently it was a problem.”
Commissioner Brian Finstad said he’s on the fence about regulating smoke shops.
“I just think it’s going to hit a point of market saturation and it’s going to stop,” Finstad said. He said when he thinks about the vacant buildings that have reopened as smoke shops, they are buildings that now have nice signage and are occupied again.
“I agree,” said Councilor Jack Sweeney. “The market will eventually dictate how many of these stay open and close.”
Commissioner Dave Strom said the city would have to be careful to ensure that it is not quashing competition.
“I’ve heard recently that the schools are having a problem trying to control it,” Commissioner Ann Porter said. She suggested city staff should seek opinions from the school district as they gather information.
Fennessey said he would strongly agree to let the market dictate how many smoke shops the city has but when the city allowed many liquor licenses, the city became known as a bar town.
“There are some businesses that some kind of regulation is wanted,” Fennessey said.
Paine said Serck will do the research to see what the city is able to do and pass that information along to the Plan Commission. If someone wants to champion regulations on smoke shops and write an ordinance, then the Plan Commission can consider it.