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Marijuana ballot signatures validated in Clinton Township

If approved, initiative could be voted on in March 2020

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published December 4, 2019

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — On Nov. 22, Clinton Township Clerk Kim Meltzer finalized a marijuana ballot petition and forwarded it to the Macomb County Clerk’s Office.

The proposal was submitted by Clinton Township Yes, a pro-marijuana advocacy group. Meltzer confirmed that 3,893 of the more than 5,700 signatures collected were validated. In an email to Macomb County Clerk/Register of Deeds Fred Miller, Meltzer asked that the initiative be placed on the March 10, 2020, ballot.

The initiative only needed 5% of the signatures of the total number of votes from the 2018 gubernatorial election, or 2,145 signatures. She said that threshold was surpassed “quite significantly.”

Steve Linder, who recently spoke at the township’s Oct. 28 board meeting on behalf of local marijuana investors who started the petition, presented the signatures.

It is “unprecedented,” Meltzer added, saying that nothing statutorily iterates how such a petition, if approved, should be regulated. She said Miller forwarded the initiative and signatures to the Macomb County Corporation Counsel, which may ultimately decide if it will reach the 2020 ballot.

“My feeling, it’s not up to the lawyer or a clerk to make that determination,” she said. “It will be up to a judge (if it’s challenged).”

Meltzer said it’s not about pro- or anti-marijuana, but doing the duty of a public official to oversee the ramifications. She said whether or not officials agree or disagree with the issue, or the content of the issue, is irrelevant to the administrative process allotted by the law.

“It limits our ability to control the number,” she said. “This whole thing came about because the people who were against it, they put some pressure on board members … It had to do with us maintaining control of something that will be in our community.”

Township Attorney Jack Dolan, at that previous meeting with Linder, said the petition language was not in compliance with the recreational marijuana law, or the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act.

“I thought that the subject matter of the initiative was limited only to the number of each of the uses under the act,” Dolan said. “I thought that the ordinance (introduced Oct. 28) went beyond that.

“We’re still obligated to continue to process this matter until there’s some other action that’s taken that would indicate we’re not able to process it.”

Township Treasurer Paul Gieleghem was one of four board members who voted against the ordinance introduced by Meltzer Oct. 28.

He said that when he agreed to serve on Clinton Township Supervisor Bob Cannon’s Marijuana Exploratory Committee years ago, he almost immediately concluded that the regulatory framework was a mess; that there was little revenue in it for local governments; and that the “severity” of the “social costs” was still unknown.

“It’s important to state that none of this debate that’s happening in Clinton Township stops anyone from using marijuana, for either medical or recreational purposes,” Gieleghem said. “Does it make sense to have dispensaries along Gratiot (Avenue), Groesbeck (Highway) and Hall (Road) and the major thoroughfares of the township?”

He said it’s the third attempt to “jam” something through, due to budding entrepreneurs and industry investors attempting to take matters into their own hands. It’s a result of what Gieleghem said is “politicians who are willing to put their private interests ahead of the interest of the township.”

“There’s a number of Board of Trustee members who have gotten a little too cozy with the marijuana industry investors, and it now places us in a position of having this petition drive before us,” he said.

Costly lawsuits lie ahead, he believes, pointing to potential legal situations in cities such as Warren, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Troy and Lansing.

“Let this market flush out,” he continued. “Let all of these unknown issues be adjudicated through the courts, and then decide as a community if this makes economic sense for us. It’s a grand social experiment … I believe there is a difference between voting to decriminalize and placing dispensaries down Gratiot and Groesbeck and Hall Road.”

Cannon, meanwhile, said some local officials “neglected” the voice of the people, citing how township residents approved the 2018 recreational marijuana proposal by a 12-point margin.

“Our kids are not getting marijuana today from marijuana facilities that are open,” Cannon said. “They are getting marijuana from the black market. We want the black market stuff out of the hands of the kids … and into the hands of professionals who will not let kids into their facilities.”

What a ballot initiative on the March 2020 ballot would lead to is uncertain, based on who will drive people to the polls.

“There would have been no petition circulated had the board taken the matters in their own hands and chose to regulate the industry in our community,” he said. “The four who voted against the ordinance took the bull by the horns and forced the hand.”