Marijuana issue stirs controversy in Clinton Township amid upcoming election

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

When voters in Clinton Township head to the polls next Tuesday they’ll be asked to decide whether to allow marijuana facilities under certain conditions.

While supporters say voters should be able to choose, others say the township hasn’t given voters enough information to make an informed decision.

In this Aug. 15, 2019 file photo marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis grow in Gardena, Calif.

The ballot question is among the issues Macomb County voters will vote on in the March 10 election, along with the Democratic presidential primary.

The proposal asks voters if the township should “authorize and limit” the type and number of marijuana establishments. If approved, it would reverse township officials' decision to opt out of legal marijuana sales, which came after Michigan voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2018.

Opponents say the ballot proposal has created confusion among voters, some of whom don't realize it could allow for up to 24 marijuana establishments.

“People don’t want these businesses in their backyards,” said Anthony Penna, an attorney representing Clinton Township First, a group of residents, business owners and religious groups against marijuana facilities in the township. “They don’t want it next to their schools and churches, their homes.”

According to information on the ballot initiative posted on the township's website, based on the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act, the township would “authorize not more than 12 nor fewer than eight permits for a marihuana retailer; three permits for a marihuana grower, three permits for a marihuana safety compliance facility; three permits for a marihuana processor and three permits for a marihuana secure transporter.”

Penna objects to the omission of those figures from the ballot question.

"I’m pretty confident the people of Clinton Township are not going to respond kindly to having 24 marijuana businesses scattered throughout the township, which would make Clinton Township the marijuana capital of Macomb County, if not the greater metropolitan Detroit area," he said. 

Advocates for marijuana facilities say such businesses can benefit the community.

“It brings investment in terms of plant equipment,” said Steve Linder, who represents the pro-marijuana group Clinton Township Yes. “These are jobs, are very good paying jobs and they not only are good paying jobs, but they’re specialized jobs.

"It redevelops properties, which puts properties that maybe aren’t on the tax roll back on the tax roll again," he said. "It provides local community jobs and because of the laws. The way the laws in the state are written it’s got very strict security and safety standards.”

In October, the group began gathering signatures for the initiative to appear on the March ballot, said Linder, who is also executive director of the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturer Association, a group of large growers and processors.

Clinton Township Clerk Kim Meltzer said that after hearing about the ballot petition, she felt compelled to draft an ordinance for the township board to consider this past fall.

“We didn’t say that we were going to stay opted out,” she said. “This provided us the opportunity to regulate according to how we wanted it to look if in case it came down to creating an ordinance for marijuana establishments in our community.”

The township board voted down the ordinance.

The petition effort collected 5,700 signatures with about 4,000 certified by the clerk’s office. Meltzer said some individuals, including  some trustees, have questioned the validity of the signatures, but she has declined to hand over the signatures.

“They don’t get to verify them,” she said. “I already did that. It’s not their authority to do so.”

Meltzer said that if the measure passes, the township board would then have to create an ordinance that complies with the number of establishments allowed in the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act. She said she would like to see medical marijuana establishments included.

“We’ll be able to create (an) ordinance for location, what it looks like,” she said. “It would be both regulatory and zoning ordinances that we would have to create.”

Meltzer said there has been no agreement regarding where the marijuana establishments would be located.

Ronald Roberts, superintendent for Chippewa Valley Schools, said he’s concerned about the impact marijuana facilities could have on youth. Roberts is a member of the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families, which works to reduce substance abuse among children.

“Anything that normalizes marijuana will increase youth use because it sends a mixed message,” he said. “It sends a message that it’s OK, that adults said it’s OK and so it becomes more accessible in your community. That’s what we’re trying to inform parents of so that they can vote and make the best decision for their families.”

In other Macomb County ballot issues:

  • Countywide voters will be asked to decide on a 1.9-mill, 10-year increase for the Macomb Intermediate School District. The levy would raise an additional $55 million per year. They also will vote on the 10-year, 0.2-mill regional tax renewal for the Detroit Institute of Arts that's also in the ballot in Wayne and Oakland counties.
  • In St. Clair Shores. Lakeview Public Schools is asking voters to renew its non-homestead operating millage of 18 mills for four years, from 2021 to 2024. The tax raises $2.45 million a year for the district.
  • Center LIne voters are being asked to renew a 10-year, 7.5-mill tax for police and fire services.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN