On Oct. 28, in front of a large crowd, the Clinton Township Board of Trustees voted 4-3 not to repeal an existing “opt out” ordinance in relation to allowing marijuana retail facilities within township limits.

On Oct. 28, in front of a large crowd, the Clinton Township Board of Trustees voted 4-3 not to repeal an existing “opt out” ordinance in relation to allowing marijuana retail facilities within township limits.

File photo


Clinton Township board again says ‘no’ to marijuana facilities

Possible ballot initiative could appear in March

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published October 30, 2019

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"This issue is not going away”

Bob Cannon, Clinton Township Supervisor

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — A split vote and an impending ballot proposal have put marijuana proponents and detractors on separate sides of the aisle.

On Oct. 28, in front of one of the largest Clinton Township Board of Trustees meeting crowds in recent memory, the board voted 4-3 not to repeal an existing “opt out” ordinance in relation to allowing marijuana retail facilities within township limits.

Treasurer Paul Gieleghem and Trustees Jenifer “Joie” West, Ken Pearl and Mike Keys voted against repealing the existing ordinance. Supervisor Bob Cannon, Clerk Kim Meltzer and Trustee Joe Aragona voted in favor of it.

About 53 members of the public — including children, parents, educators, businesspeople and faith-based individuals — spoke on the issue at the meeting. The repeal of the current ordinance was placed on the evening’s agenda by Meltzer, who called it a response to a local ballot initiative that has gone around town, garnering signatures in an effort to be placed on the March 10, 2020, election ballot.

The township ordinance proposed buffers, including facilities being at least 500 feet away from schools, public parks, commercial child care organizations and religious institutions. The ballot initiative proposed 1,000 feet of buffer zones in such instances.

If approved, the township ordinance would have allowed five retail facilities where likely both recreational and medical marijuana would be sold over the counter. The ballot initiative, if successful, could hypothetically lead to a minimum of eight to 10 retail facilities within township borders.

“Just as I saw the importance of maintaining control of this issue when confronted by the state of Michigan’s threat to impose its control upon us, it is just as important to maintain control in the face of a threat by a special interest,” Meltzer wrote to the board Oct. 25.

The Board of Trustees unanimously “opted out” on April 8 of this year, providing the township with options on how it could theoretically move forward with possible retail facilities.

Township Planning Director Bruce Thompson said there could be five locations for medical marijuana and five for recreational marijuana facilities, totaling 10 retail facilities. However, he called it “likely” that due to the passing of the 2018 recreational law, medical marijuana and recreational marijuana would be sold in five total retail facilities. The clerk has referred to this as “stacking.”

The ballot initiative only refers to recreational marijuana. Township Attorney Jack Dolan said the proposed township ordinance “was trying to address in one single ordinance both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana.”

Dolan explained that although the township ordinance could have included 42 permits — including retailers, growers, secured transporters, processing and safety compliance — there would only be maximum sites. The initiative calls for 20-25 permits, Dolan said. Gieleghem used the number 24.

“Although there’s a significant difference in permit numbers, the location difference is 20-25 versus 21 maximum locations. … You could have a provisioning center permit, a retail market, a grower permit for medical, a grower permit for recreational, a processing permit for recreational, a processing permit for medical all at one location — up to six permits,” Dolan said. “That would be theoretically the largest number.”

“I think what’s important to keep clear,” Dolan continued, “is there’s a difference in the number of permits issued and the number of locations.”

Lansing-based consultant Steve Linder, who worked on the 2016 medical marijuana-related ballot initiative, is helping to garner signatures as part of the aforementioned petition. It wasn’t until right before the board voted that Emerald Growth Partners and Pleasantrees CEO Randy Buchman introduced himself as being behind the petition.

Linder touted a “conflation of fear” among those opposing marijuana retail facilities, also known as dispensaries or provisioning centers. Although just 2,100 signatures are required for ballot placement, Linder alleged that 5,000 pro-marijuana signatures were given by township residents in a matter of nine days.

“People want access and they’re willing to go to the ballot and get it,” Linder stated.

In a Facebook post, Buchman said those who voted against the township ordinance listened “to a very present and organized minority.”

“What I saw tonight was a lot of emotion backed by little or skewed data, if any,” Buchman said. “Hopefully, the voters that do and have supported regulated cannabis in Clinton Township show up when it is time to vote.”

 

Differing opinions
In November 2018, the majority of Clinton Township voters voted to legalize recreational marijuana, by a 55% to 45% margin. That included 33 of 46 precincts voting in favor of Proposal 1.

Prior to the Oct. 28 meeting, flyers stating “protecting our kids and community from large-scale marijuana” were handed out. The literature attacked Cannon, Meltzer and Aragona for “flawed arguments” in favor of retail developers.

Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ron Roberts was joined in opposition by Fraser Public Schools Superintendent Carrie Wozniak and St. Thecla Catholic School Principal Dona Johnson-Beach.

“Now is the time to fight for our families,” Roberts said at the meeting. “Now is the time to fight for our kids.”

Resident Peter Viviano said the township was being “extorted” by special interest groups and individuals. Another resident, Jessica Finch, called Gieleghem’s claim that residents voted to decriminalize marijuana but don’t necessarily want retail facilities in their municipality “disingenuous.”

The day after the meeting, Meltzer said the ordinance language was essentially the same as language introduced about two years ago to the Planning Commission. She believes the black market will not be diminished due to the board’s decision.

“Had there been pro-economic development people, I believe 100% it would have passed,” Meltzer said. “The fact that the people didn’t come out and didn’t voice their support of the ordinance, coupled with the fact that the people in opposition came out, was the reason it failed last night.

“People have to take the time to come out and speak their position. You can’t hide behind the veil of Facebook comments and say you want a community to move in a certain direction and expect that to translate to a vote.”

West initially attempted to remove the revoking of the previous ordinance from the agenda. Pearl said the people in attendance deserved to see how the board would vote, leading to a rejection of the motion.

West said she has always been in favor of medical marijuana, adding that she doesn’t like the stigma surrounding recreational use either. A March ballot proposal “will probably occur,” she added.

Her vote was based on barriers — such as being only 500 feet away from schools and churches, instead of 1,000 feet — and process.

“I was very much 50-50 when I walked in, and I don’t appreciate being bullied by the fourth vote,” West said. “I sometimes feel like three of my colleagues try to do that. I wasn’t swayed by that.

“More than anything, it was the process. That is one of the things I see with this board right now — the process of doing all this stinks. We didn’t have to do it really, really fast.”

Cannon claimed Oct. 29 that the people who “came out in full force” of opposition “influenced one or more members” in their votes — thwarting the will of the majority.

“I believe the people of Clinton Township voted to put this in place, and four members decided to take matters in their own hands, and with possible negative repercussions if we end up with a ballot proposal that brings more facilities,” he said.

As for allegations from some members of the public that he and others are potentially profiting from possible retail facilities, he called the people he knows “reputable businessmen.”

“This issue is not going away,” Cannon said. “I believe the group doing the study will get this on the ballot and we will roll the dice.”

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