WHITEHALL – A split city council turned down an ordinance that would allow recreational marijuana facilities in the designated areas, but approved medical marijuana facilities to locate in the city.
The actions by the city council at its October 22 meeting followed 11 months of study on the issue by the city’s planning commission and council.
The council’s action on two proposed ordinances which would allow the licensing of marijuana facilities was done before an audience of over 50 people, many who spoke against locating marijuana facilities in the community. Some of the speakers identified themselves as staff or members of New Beginnings Assembly of God Church in nearby Whitehall Township. Speakers also included city residents.
Gary Ritter, missions pastor at New Beginnings, said the marijuana facility licensing is a quality of life issue.
“I could go on and on,” Ritter concluded after sharing information from studies. “Marijuana is a gateway drug that is strongly linked to mental disorders and violence. It has no place in this community for anyone concerned with quality of life.”
Ritter said NASA, the country’s space agency, has paid millions to a large contractor, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, to review his employees so they don’t use marijuana because it is illegal under federal law.
“Is it wise to make marijuana easily available to our young people so they start down this path and jeopardize their future employment,” he added.
“We urged the city council to do the right thing. Strike down this ordinance and bury it. I don’t want the sale of recreational marijuana in this community.”
Robert Gunn, president of Northwest Fireplace in Twin Lake and an admitted ex-drug user and dealer who has served time in prison, said allowing growing, processing and sales of marijuana will cost the city 10 times more than it would receive in taxes in law enforcement and counseling costs in churches and schools.
“This ruins people’s lives. I’ve spent 35 years counseling people trying to get their lives back on track from the use of marijuana, a gateway drug,” Gunn said. “It promotes crime in the area. Businessmen don’t want it. I don’t want it for my kids and my grandkids. They don’t want it in their neighborhood. This will not promote growth.”
Gunn other West Michigan communities don’t want marijuana facilities.
When the medical marijuana law passed in Michigan, local communities could keep facilities out by not opting in. In November 2018 when voters approved the use and sale of recreational marijuana for adults, communities had to take action to opt out or opt in.
Whitehall had not previously opted in for medical marijuana, and initially opted out of recreational marijuana.
The council, however, directed the planning commission to study the issues of allowing licensed marijuana facilities in the city.
The planners presented ordinances to the council to allow the licensing of medical and recreational marijuana facilities in the city. Those draft ordinances would have allowed an unlimited number of licenses. The grow and production facilities would be allowed in the industrial zones, more than 500 feet from a school. They would allow provisioning facilities (sales) in the general and central business districts (Colby Street), restricted commercial and lakefront recreation zones.
However, the city council later limited the number of licenses to three per activity, and banned provisioning facilities from lakefront recreation and restricted commercial facilities.
Council member Norm Kittleson moved to approve the ordinance to allow recreational marijuana and council member Steve Salter supported it. The motion failed 4-3. Voting for it were Kittleson, Salter and Scott Brown. Opposing it were Mayor Debi Hillebrand, Mayor Pro-Tem Ellie Dennis, Richard Connell and Virginia DeMumbrum.
The ordinance to allow medical marijuana facilities was approved by the same 4-3 margin. On that vote Dennis voted yes, giving it the winning margin.
Dennis said she voted no on the recreation marijuana, “because I just feel like we don’t have enough information. If we say yes there is no going back. If we say no we can always come back later.”
DeMumbrum said she feels the same way.
“I don’t think it has a place in our community,” Mayor Hillebrand explained why she voted no.
Kittleson, after the meeting, explained why he voted for the ordinances to allow licensing of recreational and medical marijuana facilities in the city.
He said when the voters approved recreational marijuana last November the state said that communities should treat marijuana licensing like alcohol. Whitehall allows alcohol sales.
The council also passed a resolution to set medical marijuana licensing fees at $1,200 nonrefundable application fee, and a $5,000 annual permit fee.