Future of marijuana dispensaries in Muskegon hazy after public hearing

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Future of marijuana dispensaries in Muskegon hazy after public hearing
credit:MLive.com

MUSKEGON, MI – At least three Muskegon city commissioners said they support a proposed ordinance allowing medical marijuana facilities in Muskegon – including dispensaries – as long as they are confined to a special district off Seaway Drive.

Nearly 50 people attended the commission’s work session Monday, Oct. 9, for discussion of a proposed medical marijuana ordinance. The commission decided to take time to mull the pros and cons following a lengthy debate and an informal public hearing.

Commissioners will revisit the ordinance at their Nov. 13 work session.

Those who expressed support of the proposal included Mayor Stephen Gawron and commissioners Debra Warren and Ken Johnson.

Commissioner Byron Turnquist expressed the most vocal opposition to the ordinance, calling it a figurative deal with “the devil.”

The proposed ordinance would allow growers, processors, safety compliance facilities, secure transport for suppliers and dispensaries, labeled legally as “provisioning centers,” in the district, provided operators get necessary permits.

The city currently allows caregivers and patients to grow medical marijuana plants. This new ordinance would allow more grow operations in the proposed district – again, only if they can acquire the necessary permits.

Existing growers can continue to cultivate the plant where they are. Patients growing their pot for medicine can still do so at their homes.

Johnson said taxing and regulating medical marijuana facilities could create a strong economic boon for Muskegon. The proposal locks growers and dispensaries into a tight district, which would create an area for Muskegon’s would-be medical marijuana industry could flourish without competition.

Johnson disagreed with staff on confining provisioning centers to a single district, however, emphasizing the need to “better accommodate our patient-residents seeking their medicine.”

Some of that tax money, Johnson added, could go back to law enforcement and other areas in need of higher revenues.

Turnquist countered that assertion, warning fellow commissioners to not let money cloud their judgment.

“I don’t think this is a decision that should be motivated by economic gain for the city,” Turnquist said. “We all know we’re looking for more money, but this is like selling our souls to the devil. The consequences of easier access to marijuana can be argued on both sides.”

Johnson later agreed with Turnquist, saying public health was more important than new revenue and should not be a deciding factor.

Meanwhile, a large group of residents, medical marijuana activists and anti-drug advocates filed into City Hall hoping to sway commissioners.

The meeting was so packed with people, many of them stood crowded in the hall. A few groaned, laughed and shook their heads as Turnquist and others made various anti-pot statements.

Coincidentally, Lara Fitzpatrick from the Muskegon Community Health Project gave a presentation updating commissioners on the project’s successes in 2017. A portion of the presentation included data from a recent survey of business owners and the perceived dangers of marijuana use in the work place.

Fitzpatrick said that:

  • At least 76 percent of employers in Muskegon are oppsed to the legalization of recreational marijuana.
  • At least 95 percent of them say employees under the influence of marijuana negatively affected saftey in the workplace.
  • At least 51 percent of respondents said legalization would negatively affect their ability to hire employees because many of them would fail drug tests.

Denise Pollicella from Canabis Attorneys of Michigan called the data “unscientific,” and asked commissioners to get over the “ideological barriers of medical marijuana.”

“I appreciate all community coalitions that fight drug abuse,” she said. “They belong in every city. They are incredibly important as there is no drug that can’t be abused. I defy any of you to find anyone that’s in favor of … teen drug use.

“They keep attributing marijuana as a gateway drug and saying it’s to blame for all drug use. There is zero evidence, scientific or otherwise, that marijuana is a gateway drug. This is not a conversation about teen drug use or abuse.

“It’s a conversation about if people who are already allowed to use marijuana as medicine can use it, grow it and transport it in a safe manner.”

Muskegon County Prosecutor DJ Hilson disagreed. Hilson said the ordinance would not only stymie the county’s efforts to fight drug abuse, but would negatively impact the economy overall.

“If you don’t believe our numbers, sit down with these (business owners),” Hilson told commissioners. “These are people who have invested time and money into the city of Muskegon. You owe it to them to see what their feeling is. They’ve been around a lot longer than the medical marijuana community.”

Hilson went on to say that kids in Muskegon County would ultimately perceive pot as a harmless substance if a dispensary was legalized down the block.

“As we look at states that have gone through this, we can see what I call ‘the unintended consequences,'” Hilson said.

“Muskegon County kids’ … perception of risk from marijuna has dropped over 20 percent over the last four years. That scares me a little bit. If you think that isn’t a concern, then you’re fooling yourself and these folks are fooling you.

“This is about more than passing an ordinance and providing an opportunity for industry.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to include clarifying comments from commissioners.
credit:mlive.com

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