September 18, 2019

Big Creek Twp. postpones decision on recreational marijuana business ban

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MIO — The Big Creek Township Board postponed a vote on whether to opt out of allowing recreational marijuana businesses within the township borders at a special meeting held May 29.

The meeting was held in order to listen to public comment on the topic. There were advocates for both sides of the issue present at the meeting, although there were slightly more people who spoke out in favor of the recreational businesses than against. Big Creek is the only township in the county that passed the statewide recreational marijuana initiative when it was on the ballot in November of last year.

If the township does not adopt an ordinance opting out of having recreational marijuana businesses, then the state has the ability to license facilities for that municipality. However, if the township does pass an ordinance, it has the ability to set the number of facilities, type and other criteria, whether that be an unlimited number and type of business or a total ban of recreational marijuana businesses.

Township Trustee Karen Mitchell said she is not in favor of having recreational marijuana businesses in the township.

“This is a high-poverty area, so this isn’t something that we should have,” Mitchell said.

She said she believes there were more residents against having recreational marijuana businesses in the county who didn’t come to the meeting. She said having recreational marijuana stores gives low-income parents the opportunity to spend money on marijuana that should be spent on the family. She said if residents want to have marijuana, they can grow it themselves.

“As a parent, I do not like how it would look that we’re throwing it out there for recreational pot on the main street,” she said. “This isn’t a big enough town to hide this kind of thing.”

Township Supervisor Randy Booth said he doesn’t think having a legal store in the township will have an effect on whether or not residents will spend money on marijuana.

“It’s always been available, and I don’t think there are a lot of people out there who want to grow it or cultivate it themselves,” he said. “With it being legal, they’ll be able to go to a safe place to buy it.”

Township Treasurer Susan Avery said she doesn’t think having a recreational shop in the township will increase marijuana use, but she also is wary of enacting any regulations before the state releases its final regulations for recreational marijuana businesses.

“I talked to the lawyer at the (Michigan Townships Association) this week,” Avery said. “She said they don’t have a lot of information from the state yet. I personally don’t believe if we decide to opt in it’s going to change whether people are gonna smoke marijuana.”

Trustee Joe Stone said if he had been present at the original vote, he would have chosen to deny recreational marijuana businesses. However, he said after speaking to residents throughout the week he was willing to listen to residents’ opinions.

“(Ending recreational prohibition) was approved in Big Creek Township so I’ve made it a point to go out and talk to a lot of people,” Stone said. “(Supporters) are wondering why we would pass a law saying no to something that is now legal.”

John Sakoviac was one of the first residents to speak after the board turned attention to the group of roughly 20 people in attendance.

“If you don’t have a legal place in the county to buy it, once recreational shops open, there’s some issues that could happen,” he said. “A legal shop in the county would produce jobs, produce money and would have to operate under Michigan law.”

Sheriff Kevin Grace was one of the first to speak at length against allowing recreational marijuana businesses in the area. He said he is not in favor of allowing any recreational marijuana in the township.

“I wasn’t for the vote, but I always say it is up to us to enforce the law, not make the law,” Grace said of the sheriff department. “I think we are opening ourselves up to issues. … I won’t harass anyone about it if this goes through, but my personal opinion is to not go through with it.”

Grace mentioned multiple issues he saw with allowing recreational marijuana businesses in the township, but the main one he spoke of was that he believes it will be easier for those under the legal age limit to get marijuana if there is a recreational shop in the area.

Dean Wilson, who was approved by the township to have a medical marijuana business, disagreed with some of Grace’s comments. He said the lack of a legal store for residents to purchase marijuana could open the door to more black market sales in the township in which state regulations on quality, age restrictions and safety are not followed.

“I believe a regulated commerce activity is much safer than an unregulated one,” Wilson said. “Every product that comes from my dispensary, or any dispensary, will be inspected by a state-licensed inspector. … My biggest fear is it doesn’t become regulated, coordinated and inspected how it should be.”

Booth said he thinks the township needs to get ahead of the state regulations and set its own rules governing the type and number of recreational businesses in the township, as it did with medical marijuana. The township board is expected to make a decision at its June 20 meeting.

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