Keego Harbor voters rejected ballot initiatives pertaining to marijuana dispensaries in the general election Nov. 7.

Keego Harbor voters rejected ballot initiatives pertaining to marijuana dispensaries in the general election Nov. 7.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Keego harbor rejects amendments to permit marijuana facilities

Ballot group alludes to ‘broader plan for the 2024 elections’

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published November 16, 2023


KEEGO HARBOR — On general election ballots Nov. 7, voters in Keego Harbor had two amendments and one new ordinance to consider, and whether to allow marijuana facilities in the city was the common theme with each of them.

Voters rejected both amendments and the ordinance.

The Keego Harbor “City Charter Proposed Amendment to Allow a Marihuana Retailer by Ordinance & Prohibit Establishments” received 240 yes votes and 276 no votes; the “Open Stores Ordinance” had 197 yes votes, compared to 313 voters who were opposed; the “Cannabis Licensing Charter Amendment” got 205 yes votes and 314 no votes.

The results mean that Keego remains an opt-out city when it comes to marijuana dispensaries.

Keego City Councilman Michael Karson said that he is “very happy” with how things turned out.

“I’m glad that the voters of Keego Harbor understood that it was a private company wanting to do business and cared more about opening up another retail spot than taking care of anybody in Keego Harbor,” Karson said.

Anthony Chubb, of Giarmarco, Mullins & Horton P.C., is an attorney who has represented Keego. Prior to the election, he said that a group going by the name of “Open Stores in Keego Harbor Committee” was responsible for the ordinance and the “Cannabis Licensing Charter Amendment” being placed on the ballots.

The “City Charter Proposed Amendment to Allow a Marihuana Retailer by Ordinance & Prohibit Establishments,” which was the first part of the proposal, was drafted on behalf of the city.

“I thought maybe they might approve the first one, which was City Council-driven, but the message from the hard-core voters in Keego is pretty clear: ‘We don’t want marijuana establishments or dispensaries in the city,’” Keego Mayor Rob Kalman said.

Kalman refers to those who attempted to create a ballot initiative that would allow for marijuana establishments in Keego as an “outside group.”

Karson expected them to succeed in their efforts.

“I was very surprised,” he said. “The company that wanted to pass the issue spent a tremendous amount of money in the campaign to send mailers to people, as well as phone calls and signs, so I was shocked that they lost.”

Rochester Hills resident Noah Harfouch is part of the Open Stores Committee, which aside from Keego Harbor, also introduced ballot initiatives in Grosse Pointe Park and Rochester.

From his perspective, the cannabis industry is continuing to grapple with stigma.

“Our communities have been conditioned to view cannabis negatively,” Harfouch stated via email. “Therefore, the industry faces the challenge of overcoming years of prohibition rooted in inequities and discrimination. Recognizing this, we anticipated that the recent election would be a stepping stone in our broader plan for the 2024 elections, when a larger portion of the community is expected to participate. … By fostering a more informed and nuanced understanding, we aim to contribute to a more inclusive and well-informed discourse surrounding cannabis in the lead-up to the 2024 elections.”

For Kalman, the heart of the issue extends beyond whether or not marijuana facilities should be permitted in the city.

“I’m really in favor of local control, not an outside group coming into Keego Harbor and strong-arming us and trying to take over our ordinances, trying to change our charter, dictating to us how we run our city,” he said. “So it really wasn’t about marijuana for me. It was more about local control and preferring that any changes to the charter go through a planning process, public hearings, council discussion, and then council voting. … Of course, any charter change would go through our attorneys as well, and make sure it’s done properly before you put it out to a vote for the people. … I think most voters, I think they agree with me.”

From Kalman’s perspective, the strategy employed by the “outside group” may have backfired.

“I think that there were people that were annoyed (by) the amount of mail they received from the outside group — the door hangers, the robo calls, the text messages — it was overkill,” he said. “People started to realize there’s a profit-driven agenda for this group and not necessarily an agenda to help the community.”

Harfouch, who is an attorney, responded to a question about whether or not those who want to have marijuana initiatives placed on ballots have an interest in opening their own stores or some other financial incentive for having initiatives placed on ballots.

“Open Stores in Keego Harbor Committee is dedicated to advocating for the presence of the cannabis industry within the Keego community through retail establishments,” he stated. “The ballot initiative endorses retail approval for any interested party seeking licensing, rather than exclusive approval for a single retail establishment or beneficiary.”

Karson does not expect this to be the last time the city hears from a group that wants to initiate a proposal that would allow for marijuana dispensaries in Keego.

“I think it will continue, and I’m hoping there’s something we can do as a city to avoid this happening again,” he said.

Kalman also understands that there is a possibility that it will be an issue that comes before Keego voters again.

“We’re a small city. It’s easier for user-initiated ballot proposals in smaller cities, because they don’t need as many signatures on the ballot,” he said. “If they come up, we’ll deal with it — our City Council will. I think the message from residents is clear: They don’t want it. … I don’t predict a different outcome if they come back.”

Harfouch addressed the possibility of placing another initiative on ballots in Keego Harbor.

“Following each election, we conduct a thorough analysis of the outcomes, allowing us to strategically adjust our initiatives,” he stated. “We then shift focus to educating the community and facilitating open dialogue to address any misinformation surrounding retail cannabis businesses. As we look ahead to 2024, we expect to see more initiatives related to cannabis on the ballot, and we’re excited about the prospect of working with local voters and community leaders to make that happen.”