By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer
Copyright Clare County Cleaver
HARRISON – The Harrison Planning Commission met again jointly with the Harrison City Council Feb. 13 to gather more information about a proposed medical marijuana provisioning center in the city. Van Long of Premiere Holding LLC, (DBA) Essence of Detroit first approached the city council Dec. 18 with a proposal to purchase the former laundry/cleaners building on N. First Street, which is owned by John Hamilton, with the intent to convert it into a marijuana provisioning center licensed in compliance with Michigan’s newly established licensing guidelines.
At the Feb. 13 Harrison Planning Commission meeting, Michelle Ambrozaitis hands out study data on the effects of legalized marijuana on communities.
At that meeting, the council arranged to meet jointly with the planning commission in early January to weigh the ramifications – potential detriments and benefits – of passing an ordinance to “opt in” to the medical marijuana business frenzy sweeping across the state. The city’s attorney Jaynie Hoerauf spoke at length about the cottage industry model of “caretakers” which has been the source for patients’ medical marijuana since it was legalized by Michigan voters. She said that business model sprang up due to the state allowing legalization of medical marijuana with inadequate forethought as to how things would be managed after the vote. She also spoke of how unlikely it would be that the federal government – which still deems marijuana use to be illegal – would pursue legal action against persons or entities for doing something the state held to be legal.
Many at that Jan. 9 meeting seemed quite taken with the idea that a business was seeking to invest $1.5 million in the City of Harrison. Others conjectured about the projected revenue spigots which would open and flow cash into the city’s coffers. Still others spoke of the potential benefits of marijuana derivatives, as well as the need to hear more from the citizens they represent.
The second meeting included many additional visitors. Speaking on behalf of the proposed provisioning center were business partners Van Long and Shawn Smith of Premiere Holdings LLC; Bay City attorney Matt Hewitt and real estate agent Matt Kowalski of Bay City. Hewitt spoke at length about his experience in helping to write the ordinance which Bay City needed to facilitate its up to 50 medical marijuana licenses.
All of those gentlemen included personal relationships or acquaintanceships where medical marijuana did make or could have made the difference between a life of agony or relatively pain-free productivity. Kowalski even mentioned his brother, whom he had lost to opioid addiction, brought about by pain which Kowalski implied could possibly have been treated with a non- or less-addicting marijuana product.
Attending local invitees included Sheriff John Wilson,
Undersheriff Dwayne Miedzianowski, Prosecutor Michelle Ambrozaitis and Hayes Township Treasurer Maye Tessner-Rood.
The undersheriff brought up his concerns regarding how the products would be monitored in the center and whether it would mean good or harm to the community
The sheriff spoke of his concern about the effects on local crime and accident rates. He lauded the medical benefits of marijuana, but said the Colorado statistics scare him.
When asked about Hayes Township’s stance on the issue, Tessner-Rood said the township currently has opted out.
The prosecutor shared multiple informational hand-outs showing data and the results of studies measuring the impact of marijuana use. Of particular note was information on what has happened in Colorado since it legalized recreational use of marijuana.
Ambrozaitis zeroed in on the increased use among youths in states where marijuana has been legalized, citing its use among teens in Colorado as the fifth highest in the nation and 50 percent above the national average. She also spoke of the number of marijuana-related poison control calls increase in Colorado after legalization: all ages increased 108 percent, and among ages 0-8 increased 206 percent. Still other data pointed out the increases in accidents, injuries, absenteeism and disciplinary problems among marijuana users and the resultant cost to employers. Also presented was data showing a marked increase in fatal traffic accidents among drivers testing positive for marijuana.
Additionally, the prosecutor took issue with the use of the term marijuana “prescriber”, saying that under the law no one can issue a prescription for an illegal drug. They can “recommend” the use of a marijuana product. That tied in with the data showing Denver-area teens in treatment saying they used someone else’s medical marijuana an average of 50 times.
Smith attempted to refute the data on teen use and vehicle accidents by citing another study which supported his comment that teen use actually decreased in Colorado, and also said it was difficult to differentiate between what is relative to marijuana and what is attributable to better reporting of distracted driving, i.e. cell phone use.
Planning Commissioner Mike Kirby brought up his concern that medical marijuana products may be just as uncontrollable as opioid abuse, because once the cardholder takes the product out of the strictly controlled provisioning center, there still can be multiple “changes of hand.”
Planning Commissioner Tom House brought up what might have been the death knell for the proposition. He cited the breakdown of fees and percentages which would actually make their way to the city’s pocketbook. The figures were based on $1 billion of annual product sales. After all the sharing of revenue with other entities in the marketplace, he said Harrison’s share of that $1 billion would be $75,000. Hoerauf said it would actually be less than that.
When House asked the undersheriff how far that amount would go to fund one deputy, Miedzianowski said it wouldn’t even cover one officer.
When the cold hard cash data was rolled out, the visitors promoting the provisioning center proposal said nothing more.
The Planning Commission then proceeded with its vote on whether or not to pass an ordinance to opt in. That vote was a unanimous NO.
So, despite the highly open-minded, almost welcoming attitude displayed at the January meeting, there was a profound change of direction at the February meeting. The Planning Commission must now craft an ordinance stating the City has opted out, which it will present to City Council for approval or disapproval.
The topic is not dead and gone, however. While the Planning Commission chose to opt out, it can still choose to opt in at a later date. The city must simply be careful if it chooses to do so, because once a medical marijuana business is allowed to operate, it cannot be eliminated if the city later chooses to opt out.
The Planning Commission will meet next at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 13 in the Conference Room at City Hall, 2105 Sullivan Drive.