Beginning Dec. 6, it will be legal in Michigan to use marijuana for recreational purposes. But, the question of where commercial establishments related to its growth, production and sale will be allowed to operate is still up in the air.
The Oxford Village Council began addressing the issue with a 38-minute discussion at its Nov. 27 regular meeting.
Councilman Erik Dolan pushed for the total prohibition of marijuana businesses and made a motion to begin the process of putting ordinance language to that effect in place.
“Marijuana is a gateway drug, contrary to what proponents would like to believe,” he said. “It is a risk to public safety. (Legalization) increases the availability to children, risking and compromising their safety based on the realistic propensity for adults to have it in close proximity to children. It is habit forming and it perpetuates apathy.”
But the rest of council didn’t wish to immediately rush down the prohibition path. They wanted citizen input and more information.
Dolan’s motion failed in a 3-2 vote with he and Councilman Dave Bailey voting in favor. Voting against were village President Joe Frost and council members Maureen Helmuth and Kate Logan.
“I think this is something that merits a whole lot of public comment and that’s something I am willing to wait for,” Logan said. “I think it’s really early in the game to be jumping on this. We need to see how things set up with the state.”
“I’m hesitant to act on something that we don’t know enough about,” Frost said.
Michigan voters approved Proposal 18-1, the legalization of recreational marijuana, in the Nov. 6 election. A total of 2,356,422 residents (55.89 percent) voted ‘yes.’ On the ‘no’ side were 1,859,675 residents (44.11 percent).
Under the law, municipalities are allowed to ban or restrict marijuana businesses.
“If you do not take action to prohibit it, you will have to potentially enact ordinances that regulate it,” said village attorney Bob Davis. “There are unknowns except for the proposition that if you don’t want these facilities in your communities, you should start down the road of enacting an ordinance for that purpose.”
Davis explained municipalities that wish to ban marijuana businesses will have to take action within a certain time frame, but he does not know what the deadline is. “I don’t have the exact answer and no one does tonight with respect to when you would have to have an ordinance in place prohibiting these establishments in order to enforce that,” he said.
However, he warned council, “I hear (the deadline is) not going to be too (far) into the future.”
“I believe that time is going to come upon you very quickly,” Davis said.
One thing Davis was certain about is if the village fails to meet the deadline, it will have no choice but to allow these businesses.
“If you miss that time period, then those seeking to have those businesses in your community would have rights and now, you would have to have some regulation (for them),” he said.
“It’s one of those things (that) if you do nothing, you live with the consequences,” said village Manager Joseph Madore.
Although Madore made no formal recommendation, he did tell council it could opt to prohibit marijuana businesses now, see how the situation develops, then revisit the issue later.
“You could always change your mind,” he said. “The (alternative) can’t really happen because once you let them in . . . you can’t get them out . . . You could always have a wait-and-see approach is my point.”
Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth wanted more information before making a decision because she’s interested in the tax revenue allowing marijuana businesses could generate for the village.
In addition to the state’s 6 percent sales tax, the retail sale of marijuana will be subject to a 10 percent excise tax.
After funding the implementation and regulation of the new law, plus clinical trials researching the efficacy of using marijuana to treat the medical conditions of military veterans, the remainder of the excise tax revenue will be distributed in the following manner – a total of 30 percent to municipalities (15 percent) and counties (15 percent) in which marijuana businesses are located, 35 percent for K-12 education and 35 percent to the state transportation fund for the repair and maintenance of roads and bridges.
“I’m not ashamed to say I want that money,” Helmuth said.
But to Dolan, the potential revenue was irrelevant. “In my opinion, there’s no amount of tax dollars that (is) worth selling out our community, our safety, our youth,” he said.
Helmuth pointed out that village residents voted to 904 to 686 to approve Proposal 18-1.
“This sleepy little village wants this to be legal,” she said. “People all over the State of Michigan want this to be legal. I just think that has to be taken into account.”
Oxford Township, including the village, approved marijuana legalization 5,625 to 4,651.
But Davis pointed out the vote wasn’t about letting marijuana businesses into communities. “The people voted in favor of allowing recreational marijuana,” he said. “The people didn’t vote in favor of the village having a storefront to sell it . . . Even though the people may want to use it recreationally, it doesn’t mean they want a storefront.”
Dolan expressed his belief that “despite the fact that the community passed it,” as an elected official, he has a “responsibility” for the community’s “safety” and “I don’t think we have the ability to overlook that for tax dollars or the will of (recreational users).”
Speaking as a retired police officer, Dolan said, “If businesses of this nature are (allowed) in this community, it will, with 100 percent certainty, result in robberies, break-ins and additional violent crimes.”
“I say that speaking as an individual who has seen it firsthand . . . It will happen and you will have to answer (for) it,” he said.
Dolan was adamant about council voting on the issue that night. “I’m demanding a vote because I want these council members on (the) record for when a police officer responds to a dispensary break-in and is shot,” he said. “I want someone to have accountability.”
But other council members, like Logan, felt it prudent to wait and gather more input before making any decisions.
“This is going to be one of the biggest decisions that this council makes in the next year or two,” she said. “I would caution (against) going to a vote this evening on anything. I think that’s going to set a tone. I think that we owe it to this community to hear all sides of the argument.”
Frost mentioned that the Michigan Municipal League (MML) is conducting workshops on this subject. “I would like to see our staff attend one of those workshops,” he said.
Outside of its members, council received input from former village President Sue Bossardet and Police Chief Mike Solwold.
While she’s “all for” marijuana’s “medical uses,” Bossardet said, “I don’t want to see (marijuana businesses) in my one-square-mile village and in my historic downtown.”
“We have to protect this downtown,” she said. “If we don’t protect it for the people that want to shop and work and live and eat here, then what are we doing?”
Solwold called marijuana a “gateway drug” because its use leads to the need for more drugs in order to get high. “That is where marijuana takes you into that different realm,” he said.
Solwold talked about recreational marijuana leading to enforcement issues that will require more police manpower. For example, under the new law, users must be at least 21 years old and cannot operate a motor vehicle under the drug’s influence. It will be up to police to enforce this.
“The voters have spoken, but we do have the right to sit down and talk about whether we want to bring it into our community,” Solwold said. “It’s going to bring people into our community that are strangers that could potentially bring problems.”
Frost noted that even if the village were to prohibit marijuana businesses, that would not prevent residents from using the drug.
“This will still be legal,” he said. “This will still be in our community. Residents will still be able to grow a certain amount. Residents will still be able to possess a certain amount.”
Given marijuana is still classified as illegal by the federal government, Frost asked Davis if the village would be aiding and abetting a crime by allowing these types of businesses.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Davis replied.
Ten states, including Michigan, and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Thirty-three states, including Michigan, plus Washington D.C., have legalized it for medicinal purposes.
Ultimately, council voted 4-1 to set the issue aside until the next meeting and instruct village staff to attend one of the MML’s workshops and gather more information.
“We don’t have to act on this tonight,” Davis said.