Two Oakland County cities to decide marijuana issues

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

It’s been nearly a year since Michigan voters approved the recreational use of marijuana, but municipalities are still grappling with how to regulate sales of the product. 

Next week, residents in Walled Lake and Keego Harbor will decide on proposals that would allow more marijuana facilities in those communities. Those are among the issues and races that Oakland County voters will face on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Greenhouse Walled Lake owner Jerry Millen poses in front of his medical marijuana facility on the corner of Walled Lake Dr. and Pontiac Trail, Friday afternoon, October 25, 2019, holding a Vote No Proposal 1 sign.

In Walled Lake, voters are being asked to approve the creation of eight facilities where customers can go to purchase cannabis products. A “Voices Heard Walled Lake” committee gathered enough signatures to put the Proposal One question on the ballot, according to city attorney Vahan Vanerian.

“Council had voted approval for three facilities,” said Vanerian. “But this (ballot) group feels eight would be a better number. We are only a community about two square miles large, so some wonder if there really is that big of a need.”

Vanerian said the three already approved facilities are medical marijuana dispensaries. Should the ballot question fail, the council's action permitting the dispensaries takes effect Nov. 14.

“They would just handle sales for both the recreational users and the medical marijuana cardholder,” he said.

In November 2015, Walled Lake voters approved legalizing use and possession of one ounce of marijuana by persons 21 or older in private spaces. The city, which has about 7,000 residents, received 20 applications to become one of the dispensaries or provisioning centers, Vanerian said.

“This is an issue of local concern here,” he said. “It’s a new area of law and an evolving area which presents new and interesting legal questions, including state law requirements versus local ordinances.”

James Arnold of Walled Lake has filed a lawsuit in Oakland Circuit Court seeking to have Proposal 1 removed from the ballot. His attorney, Daniel Schouman, saidthe city council has passed a resolution permitting a set amount of retailers, and that should be sufficient. Arnold’s complaint has been assigned to Judge Daniel P. O’Brien, who has yet to set a hearing date.

“I don’t believe that just because you file a petition, you go against a decision made by the city council,” said Schouman. “We look forward to a hearing. If we don’t get one until after the vote, I think it can still be declared invalid.”

Others, including Jerry Millen, co-owner of The Green House, Walled Lake’s medical marijuana dispensary, also have concerns.

“I’m not afraid of competition — it's good for business,” said Millen. “But with a community our size, that would mean a dispensary on just about every corner. I don’t want to see Walled Lake turned into 'Weed Lake.'

“I think the city council’s plan — three establishments — is sufficient,” he said. “This other thing has been pushed by an outside group that wants to take power away from local government.”

The treasurer of "Voices Heard Walled Lake," which gathered signatures in favor of the proposal, is identified on the petition as Nick Zettell, with his address listed as Ferndale. 

When contacted last week, Zettell — who boasts being a founding board member of the MI Legalize initiative and a longtime director of Ann Arbor’s Hash Bash — said he was no longer involved with the group. He did not elaborate nor would he provide names or numbers of other people to contact.

Millen said he has been told by some of the 8,000 patients that patronize his business they were misled into thinking the initiative would lower the number of places selling marijuana in Walled Lake.

“This isn’t Ann Arbor. This isn’t Pontiac,” Millen said. “This isn’t needed and people should vote no.”

Millen has filed for a personal protection order against the city’s former ordinance officer, Jeff Rondeau, now a city council candidate, alleging that Rondeau tried to run him over with his bicycle during a June 22 "Beach Party" festival in town. Millen claims Rondeau told him he had a gun and threatened him.

A hearing on the  PPO request is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 4 before Judge Jacob James Cunningham of Oakland Circuit Court.

Rondeau said Millen made "outlandish and false accusations" involving the June incident in his request for a personal protection order in mid-October.

“It is extremely coincidental that this request comes when the city election is less than two weeks away and Mr. Millen is opposed to me as a candidate for city council," he said.

"Nonetheless, after reviewing his accusations, the Court denied Mr. Millen’s request for a personal protection order due to insufficient evidence," Rondeau said. "While we have to appear in court next week for a hearing, I fully anticipate that the court will reiterate its finding that these crazy accusations have no merit and do not warrant a personal protection order.“

In Keego Harbor, voters will decide a similar proposal — also filed by Zettell but under the name “Voters for A Responsive Keego Harbor” — that would regulate the sale of marijuana. It too would allow eight retail outlets — four for sale of medical marijuana and four for recreational marijuana — in a city of less than 3,000 residents.

In August, the Keego Harbor city council voted to prohibit medical marijuana centers or recreational marijuana businesses, according to city manager Jared Ottenwess.

“We are only a half-mile square,” said Ottenwess. “Even if voters approve this proposal, there is no way we would be able to issue any permits because of its own restrictions.”

He said under the proposal, any facility would have to be outside a 1,000-foot radius of any school, 500-foot radius of any church, 350 feet from any park and not be within 1,500 feet of a day care center.

“We have plotted out the entire city and there is not one area that would qualify,” he said.

Ottenwess remains at a loss on why an outside petitioner would target Keego Harbor.

“It’s a question which I have asked myself and don’t have an answer,” he said. “The only thing I can think of is we are so small that they didn’t need to collect that many signatures on petitions. They could do it in one day.”

Other Oakland County ballot issues

  • Countywide: Oakland Community College is seeking continuation of a 0.75-mill levy for operating expenses for 10 years. It is estimated that the millage would raise $45 million a year for the college.
  • Berkley schools: 18-mill, three-year operating levy that would raise an estimated $267,000 in 2020.
  • Birmingham schools: 21-mill, 10-year operating replacement levy that would raise $51.4 million in its first year.
  • Clarkston: City voters face several proposed charter changes. If approved, they would require elected city officials to resign to run for another office; allow the city council to appoint members of the Zoning Board of Appeals; extend the deadline for completing audits of city accounts from 90 days to six months after a fiscal year ends; and allow city council members to nominate members of the Board of Review.
  • Fenton schools: 0.8999-mill, three-year sinking fund renewal that would raise about $820,000 in 2020.
  • Huron Valley schools: An 11-year, $182 million bond issue for facility improvements and school bus purchases, with an estimated millage of 2.97 in 2020, and a 0.9109-mill, 10-year sinking fund renewal that would raise about $2.5 million in 2020.
  • Lathrup Village: A 15-year, $21.3 million bond issue for street improvements, with an estimated 4.4843 mills to be levied in 2020.
  • Madison Heights: Amend the city charter to change the maximum authorized levy on taxable property from 10 mills to 16 mills and to delete the current authority to separate specific amounts for replacement of vehicles (0.25 mill), advanced life support services through the fire department (0.25 mill) and the public library (1 mill).
  • Novi Community Schools: A 25-year, $185 million bond issue for facility improvements and bus purchases, with an estimated 1.41 mills to be levied in 2020, and a 10-year, 0.4731-mill sinking fund renewal, which would raise about $1.18 million in 2021.
  • Pleasant Ridge: A 0.5-mill, five-year renewal for library services, which would raise an estimated $80,106 in 2020.
  • Rochester: Charter amendments to lower the minimum age for an elective office candidate from 25 to 21; change the value of property needing voter approval to be sold from $2 per capita to $50,000 state equalized value, indexed to the Consumer Price Index; remove specific compensation amounts for the mayor and city council; delete a section on the former city Board of Health; delete a section regarding the former municipal court and constables; and delete language regarding notice to city of claim for injuries since it is covered by state statute.
  • Rochester Community Schools: Sinking fund increase of 1.5 mills for 10 years for facility repairs and improvements, which would raise about $7.88 million in 2020.
  • Rochester Hills: A 1.0965-mill renewal for 10 years, which would raise more than $4 million in its first year for road improvements.

New and familiar faces

While eight communities will hold uncontested races for office, others will provide voters with several familiar and new faces — like in Southfield, where a field of 12 hopefuls will seek four available seats on city council.

Voters in numerous communities will be choosing mayors:

  • Berkley: Incumbent Mayor Daniel Terbrack is opposed by Robert B. Lathrop.
  • Clawson: Mayor Deborah Wooley is challenged by Reese Scripture, who has served on the town's planning commission and the zoning board of appeals.
  • Farmington Hills: Former state representative and ex-mayor Vicki Barnett will face off against Councilman Richard Lerner for the mayor’s post.
  • Ferndale: Current councilwoman Melanie Piana is competing with Brian Stawowy for the mayor’s post held by Dan Martin. The mayor’s job was vacated by David Coulter when he became county executive earlier this year.
  • Madison Heights: Mayor Brian Christian Hartwell is being challenged by Johnnette Eggert.
  • Northville: Mayor Ken Roth is being challenged by Brian Turnbull.
  • Novi: Mayor Bob Gatt is challenged by Christine Ingles.

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