KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Recreational marijuana was legalized across the state after the November election, but deciding whether or not to allow marijuana businesses within city limits is stirring debate all over the state. At a special meeting Monday, Kalamazoo discussed what to do.
Clyde Robinson, the city attorney, recommended that city commissioners vote to opt out of allowing dispensaries, growing centers or any type of commercial businesses for recreational marijuana.
Robinson believes that the current language of the state law leaves too much room for interpretation on how to regulate and enforce recreational marijuana rules. That uncertainty, Robinson explained, could create future legal problems for cities that allow sales and create their own ordinances.
He recommended that commissioners for the city of Kalamazoo vote to ban commercial sales for recreational marijuana for at least a year, hoping that the Michigan Department Licensing and Regulatory Affairs will have more solid guidance by then.
But the majority of the crowd expressed disappointment about any possible ban.
“All the incentive is for this conduct to take place right now in neighborhoods,” said one man, “and it’s happening in every neighborhood in Kalamazoo and every neighborhood in Portage and probably every neighborhood in this state.”
It wasn’t just residents worried about a growing black market resulting from an opt-out vote. City Commissioner Eric Cunningham told 24 Hour News 8 that a big part of any pot-patrolling ordinance is incentivizing doing things the right way. He pointed out that this should be, as the state law mentions, an opportunity to extend new opportunities to populations that have been disproportionately affected by the prohibition of marijuana.
“For so long, the black market thrived in certain communities and there are skill sets within those communities with the black market, such as this marijuana industry, and I think that they would be able to capitalize on it and I think that if you’re able to capitalize and make a living for your family, you won’t jeopardize that in the long term,” he said.
Cunningham, who noted he hasn’t decided one way or another, said he believes allowing the businesses could decrease crime. He doesn’t believe it will eliminate the black market entirely.
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During his presentation, Robinson picked apart differences in the state’s medical and recreational marijuana laws. For example, he said that police can access and inspect any medical marijuana facilities, but added that it’s unclear if that’s the case for recreational businesses.
He also told commissioners that LARA could start accepting applications for commercial businesses as soon as Sept 1. If the city doesn’t have a decision before then, he believes it could cause more problems.
“There is a time where that becomes important, but it’s not now,” said Devin Loker, an attorney from Portage who came to the meeting.
Multiple city commissioners and crowd members told 24 Hour News 8 Robinson’s presentation was hyperfocused on concerns. They said it lacked an even balance of possible benefits.
Commissioner David Anderson said that he wants to support Kalamazoo voters’ decision to legalize marijuana, but he said he understands legal concerns about moving too fast. Anderson doesn’t want to allow businesses too soon, but he doesn’t believe that a few concerns means Kalamazoo has to opt out.
“Because of the values and expertise that we have here in Kalamazoo, I think we should be a trailblazer,” Anderson said after the meeting.
There was some support from the crowd to opt out for a year to start. Some people shared personal stories of smelling “skunky” marijuana at their homes due to their neighbors.
State law allows Michigan residents to legally use and grow marijuana plants at their homes no matter what their local leaders decide.
Mayor Bobby Hopewell ended the meeting by saying that Kalamazoo is not a city against marijuana.
It’s unclear when a vote on the issue may happen, but Hopewell says it will be during a regular commission meeting.