The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Locals deal with new marijuana law


January 2, 2019


As of Dec. 6 last year, it became legal in Michigan to possess and use recreational marijuana within designated guidelines.

The new freedom occurred despite 10 of the Upper Peninsula’s 15 counties voting no on Proposal 1 during the mid-term elections on Nov. 6. Only Marquette, Houghton, Keweenaw, Chippewa and Alger counties joined many downstate locales in approving the measure.

Fifty-six percent of Michigan’s voters said yes, but county totals were sometimes close, as in Gogebic, where 3,377 said no and 3,163 said yes.

Moreover, the new ruling was not delivered with a simple line in the sand. Instead, it has raised ongoing questions regarding what can and cannot be done in the way of using, growing and marketing marijuana.

In fact, since state officials are not expected to develop licensing guidelines until the end of this year, many cities and townships have been “opting out” of allowing any type of marijuana enterprise within their borders.

Local Decisions

The city of Ironwood already has opted out for the time being, but its commissioners expect to address the matter again by June. Watersmeet Township also has opted out, according to secretary Jill Mansfield.

In addition, the cities of Bessemer and Wakefield are leaning toward opting out, although votes on defined rulings are contingent upon mandatory public hearings.

Bessemer is perhaps unique in the range of decisions it already has made on the issue of marijuana, which attorneys sometimes spell “marihuana,” in a nod to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

For instance, Bessemer council members voted to allow medical marijuana businesses to operate within their industrial park more than a year ago, in September of 2017, but new members joining the council at the start of 2018 reversed that action.

Then, on Aug. 6 last year, the council voted to pass a new ordinance on “Medical Marijuana as a Home Occupation.” It included allowances for city inspections and odor and location restrictions.

Finally, after next week’s Jan. 7 public hearing, Bessemer’s city council members expect to cast final votes on an ordinance that denies recreational marijuana enterprise within the city, while also outlawing public consumption of marijuana. State law already prohibits public consumption, but council members want to underscore that ruling.

“We can always change it at a future time,” said council member Terry Kryshak, who reported in a recent meeting that, although he voted to legalize recreational marijuana, he agrees with other council members that it is prudent to discourage business operations until the state establishes related licensing.

Other local cities and townships previously opted out of medical marijuana vending, or they took no related action, which Ironwood Township supervisor Steve Boyd said had the same result. Now, however, they also must decide how to act on recreational marijuana vending.

Wakefield’s city council members already voted to have city attorney Ray O’Dea draw up an ordinance to prohibit marijuana businesses in their town. During this month, they will have a related public hearing and then vote on the ordinance.

In addition, Wakefield Township supervisor John Cox said he expects board members today to join other entities in reinforcing their desire to opt out. He said township attorney Tim Dean already has been asked to draft an ordinance to that effect.

“We’ve always been opposed,” said Cox regarding the marijuana business. Besides, he added regarding the area’s low population, “From an economic standpoint, I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of business (from marijuana). I’d much rather have a hundred new jobs in manufacturing.”

Meanwhile, Boyd said Ironwood Township voted to create a committee to explore issues relating to the drug, also known medically as cannabis, or colloquially as weed or hash, or by specific brand names such as Maui Wowie.

Erwin Township also is waiting to gather more facts before making a decision on recreational marijuana. “We’re waiting for more information from the Michigan Township Association,” said Erwin supervisor Larry Grimsby.

In addition, other governmental bodies remain undecided on marijuana commerce. Marenisco Township supervisor Richard Bouvette said its board expects to address the topic at its Jan. 21 meeting. He added that, even if members choose to opt in, there will not be any licenses issued until after the state creates related guidelines.

Finally, Bessemer Township supervisor Jeff Randall said his board has not yet set a date to make a decision. Nor, he added, are board members in any hurry to do so.

Regarding whether he has any concerns for that region, which includes Ramsay and South Bessemer, he said, “Sure I do. There’re so many unknowns now.”

From a broader perspective, Gogebic County commissioners reported at a Dec. 20 meeting that they will take no action on marijuana issues because the law enacted early that month allows for municipalities (defined as cities, villages or townships) to opt in or out of related enterprise, but does not include counties in its reference.

Legal Details

Known as the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act, the new statewide law allows adults age 21 or older to use marijuana products in their own homes. By association, they also may possess up to 10 ounces of the substance in their homes and may carry up to 2.5 ounces outside of their home (including up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrate).

The law does not provide for marijuana sales, but people are allowed to grow up to 12 plants in their homes, within specific restrictions, and may give away marijuana products to adults age 21 or older.

Landlords, however, can prohibit the possession or use of marijuana on their property, and persons also may not drive under the influence of the drug.

According to a Dec. 3, 2018 article in the Detroit Free Press, state Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint, already has introduced a bill requiring judges to review requests to “expunge” records of persons convicted of low-level marijuana crimes prior to Dec. 6.

The Detroit paper added that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, an East Lansing Democrat who took office on New Year’s Day, “also has said that she favors clearing up the records of people convicted of crimes that will no longer be offenses under the legalization of marijuana.”

Local public comment on marijuana use and vending has varied, with some citizens warning that the drug will promote a deterioration of moral values, and others suggesting it will increase tourism and will allow for a greater tax base when the state establishes licensing for related businesses.

Area officials also have acknowledged that if they do decide in the future to allow marijuana businesses to operate in this region, it will raise another list of questions in relation to further rules regarding zoning and other procedural issues.

As for how 10 of America’s United States now can allow marijuana use when it is still against federal law, reports that attorneys in states allowing legal marijuana not only are free to advise clients in accordance with their state law, but also are free to use marijuana products within the same restrictions noted for other citizens.


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