THREE OAKS — Members of the overflow crowd spoke overwhelmingly in favor of allowing marijuana-related businesses to open in the Village of Three Oaks during a Tuesday, July 16, meeting of the Marijuana Committee of the Three Oaks Planning Commission.

The audience, which grew to standing-room-only in the council meeting hall and well out into the hallway, was comprised mostly of local residents and business owners along with one grower and dispensary owner and consultants involved in the newly emerging retail cannabis marketplace. The first to be heard were those filling out cards at the beginning of the meeting who had up to three minutes to talk. After these persons were heard the discussion was open to those in the room and the hallway.

The purpose of the meeting was to gather information from the public and not to answer any questions, said Planning Commission Chair Gene Svebakken.

In December 2018, the council opted out of allowing marijuana-related businesses in the village until the state finalized its licensing rules. At the same time, it asked the Planning Commission to study the issue in terms of economic impact, action of nearby communities and enforcement issues. The marijuana committee will continue meeting on the third Tuesday of month probably until December when it hopes to give its recommendation to the Village Council.

One of the most vocal during the meeting was Mark Smith, owner since 2017 of The Green Door medical marijuana dispensary in Bangor, Mich., who also asked to be placed on a future agenda of the committee. He said he has more than 100 registered medical-use customers from Three Oaks out of the 6,000 customers from Southwest Michigan. He said he is eager to share how his company can help the community by not only creating jobs but through monetary contributions to the community. He said his firm had contributed more than $30,000 to Bangor in the past two years.

While many mentioned the need for vigilance and rules enforcement, few came forward to say they were opposed to allowing marijuana in the village. A former principal of two high schools in other communities said she was opposed to it after looking into the eyes of “stoned teenagers.” She was also opposed to endorsing anything that was against federal law lest the nation become one in which everyone just does their own thing.

Saying he was only hearing about the financial benefits to the community, a father of two said he was “100 percent in disagreement” with bringing recreational marijuana to town. A father of a child with seizures, he said he had voted for the medical use of marijuana but cited heroin overdoses in the community as one reason for his opposition to recreational use.

An attorney who represents growers, processors, packagers and others involved the cannabis industry and is member of the family which owns the shopping center across from the Three Oaks Speedway said his experience with marijuana outlets is that they can generate as much trade, jobs and revenue as an Apple Store. He said his clients often have community outreach officers and contribute to the community, are good neighbors and offer only the highest-grade products.

Darlene Heemstra, a member of the Planning Commission and former village trustee, said she and her husband Clarence had spoken about the pros and cons in the last couple of weeks and he had finally decided that the village needed to allow it. Svebakken expressed sympathy to Heemstra on the death of Clarence the previous Sunday (July 14).

Tom Flint made the point that the village opting into allowing marijuana doesn’t mean that anyone can open an outlet. He said the village would be allowed to set limits and restrictions, similar to liquor licenses.

“We have rising sewer and water rates and the streets need work. We can use the revenue,” Flint said.

A Three Oaks resident who works at the I-94 Welcome Center said she gets at least three persons a day asking where they can buy marijuana now that it’s legal in Michigan, adding that she’d hate to see people drive through Three Oaks on their way to another town. Make it a regulated market, said another attendee, saying marijuana attracts corruption or becomes a gateway drug only when it is relegated to the black market.

“It’s the wave of the future and it’s already here,” said one attendee adding to a list of reasons to opt into recreational use, such as: regulate it and make it the responsibility of parents;, you can’t overdose on marijuana; it’s not habit forming, and it’s better than alcohol.  

Local accountant Don Jackson said he can’t understand the reason for regulating marijuana over other business and said he thinks a nice-looking recreational marijuana outlet would fit in well with what visitors are looking for. 

The next meeting of the Three Oaks committee will be Tuesday, Aug. 20.  Members of the committee include Svebakken, Village Trustee Colleen Newquist, Downtown Development Authority Chair Angela Reichert, Three Oaks resident Brendan Wagner, Planning Commission Member Rob Woerdehoff, and River Valley Schools Assistant Principal Jim Wiseley. Minutes from previous meetings and information on the topic, including the different types of licenses that can be allowed, can be found at the committee’s webpage: tiny.cc/marijuana.

According to a release from the committee, recreational marijuana sales in Michigan will be subject to a 10 percent excise tax, paid by retailers. This revenue will be used first to fund the initiative’s implementation, administration and enforcement.  It also will, for at least two years or until 2022, provide $20 million per year for research on the effectiveness of marijuana for treating medical conditions of U.S. armed services veterans and preventing veteran suicide. The remaining revenue will be divided among municipalities and counties with marijuana retail stores or microbusinesses (15 percent each) and the school aid fund and the state transportation fund (35 percent each).

Michigan is the second-largest medical marijuana market in the nation, with three percent of the population (including 3.1 percent of Berrien County) holding medical marijuana cards. The state’s Senate Fiscal Agency estimates the excise tax from recreational marijuana sales will generate nearly $150 million in tax revenue by 2022.

Licenses can be issued in several categories including grower, processor, provisioning center, safety compliance facilities and transporter.

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