News Story

City Lifts Psychic Ban Without Thinking of Future

State law prohibits Petoskey from licensing fortunetellers

The city of Petoskey is getting a hazy reply on the question of whether it can regulate psychics.

Petoskey City Council members repealed an obscure fortunetelling ordinance in April, after a resident complained about the ban it imposed. The ordinance, which had most recently been updated in 2014, states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in fortunetelling or pretend to tell fortunes for hire, gain, or reward.”

One of the remedies suggested for replacing the ordinance is not lawful in this state.

The city council initially aimed to regulate the practice of fortunetelling through imposing strict licensing requirements. A proposed ordinance would establish thorough rules for allowing the practice in the city. It calls for fortunetellers to provide detailed receipts to customers, submit to inspections, post their rates in a conspicuous place, and comply in “investigation of character” procedures, according to April 18 meeting minutes.

This licensing requirement would violate a state law, made effective Jan. 1, 2018, which says that municipalities cannot create new occupational licenses and that licensing requirements are now controlled by the state.

Several cities, such as Warren and Bay City, have licensing restrictions for fortunetelling. These were, however, enacted prior to the 2018 state law and are therefore grandfathered into the new law. Warren’s licensing regime, which requires a $150 application fee and fingerprints, is considered one of the most stringent in the nation.

Petoskey’s exhaustive definition of fortunetelling includes most of the biblical categories of interpreting omens, as well as many other modern and ancient practices:

The term “fortunetelling” shall mean the telling of fortunes, forecasting of futures, or reading the past. Examples of methods of fortunetelling regulated by this ordinance include, but are not limited to: means of any occult, psychic power, faculty, force, clairvoyance, cartomancy, psychometry, phrenology, spirits, tea leaves, tarot cards, scrying, coins, sticks, dice, sand, coffee grounds, crystal gazing or other such reading, or through mediumship, seership, prophecy, augury, astrology, palmistry, necromancy, mindreading, telepathy or other craft, art, science, talisman, charm, potion, magnetism, magnetized article or substance, or by any such similar thing or act. It shall also include effecting spells, charms, or incantations, or placing, or removing curses or advising the taking or administering of what are commonly called love powders or potions in order, for example, to get or recover property, stop bad luck, give good luck, put bad luck on a person or animal, stop or injure the business or health of a person or shorten a person’s life, obtain success in business, enterprise, speculation and games of chance, win the affection of a person, make one person marry or divorce another, induce a person to make or alter a will, tell where money or other property is hidden, make a person to dispose of property in favor of another, or other such similar activity. (b) Fortunetelling shall also include pretending to perform these action.

During a February hearing on the ban, a former public safety director testified that Petoskey authorities had probed an illegal fortunetelling business for its alleged ties to organized crime in 2013. But the ordinance seems rarely to have been enforced. The city is now considering alternatives for regulating paranormal businesses.

“City Staff is reviewing our transient business requirements as they apply to any type of business,” Brian Wagner, a Petoskey City Council member, said in response to an email. “We eliminated the rule against fortune telling.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.