Ludington City Council voted 4-3 to create an ad hoc committee to craft local regulations allowing for marijuana dispensaries in the city limits at its meeting Monday.
The regulations, which could determine things like where dispensaries can be placed and how many there can be, would require the council’s approval to become law.
A roster of members nominated to the ad hoc committee, set to be made up of councilors and planning commissioners, will be reviewed at the next meeting on April 25.
The council’s vote followed 45 minutes of public comment on the issue and a half hour of council discussion. Few seats were empty in the council chamber.
Councilors John Terzano, Cheri Stibitz, Wally Cain and John Bulger voted in favor of establishing the committee. Councilors Ted May, Kathy Winczewski and Les Johnson voted against.
The city prohibited all dispensaries — recreational and medical — shortly after Michigan voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2018. That is often referred to as “opting out,” as communities had a period of time to pass ordinances effectively opting out of the legalization of dispensaries.
Councilors voted the next year to uphold the ban, largely preferring to wait for clarified regulations and see how opt-in communities fared, but proposed revisiting the topic in two years. Miller put the topic on Monday’s agenda to get that ball rolling.
New data from the state on how much money each community got from marijuana tax revenue informed Monday’s discussion.
Communities with dispensaries get a portion of the tax on marijuana sales on a per-dispensary basis, and can impose further money-making measures like inspection and licensing fees.
Each community in Michigan got $56,453.44 per dispensary last fiscal year. Ann Arbor got the most money at more than $1.4 million, and Manistee, which has five dispensaries, took in $282,267.
Terzano noted that marijuana is a “billion-dollar business” that is taught at Northern Michigan University. Cain cited the fact that five of six wards, including his own, voted for the 2018 law. Bulger said the city needs to “take a serious look at it,” but would only vote for an ordinance with “adequate controls.”
Winczewski spoke from her experience as a high school teacher to advocate against introducing dispensaries to Ludington.
“I’ve seen … families fall apart because kids start smoking pot, and then they go to harder substances,” she said. “(Parents are) trying to save their children’s dreams, their futures and their aspirations, but they’re going down the tubes. … Let’s be the community that says no.”
Johnson likewise spoke from personal experience, citing a young employee at his party store who began drinking alcohol, started smoking marijuana and later died of a second drug overdose.
While Johnson didn’t label marijuana as the gateway drug, a resident later noted that Johnson was able to legally sell alcohol at his store, which was the first drug his employee took.
May said that a Ludington without dispensaries could be appealing to families who don’t want to vacation in other cities with dispensaries. Cautioning that it might be a “lousy joke,” he said he’d like to see shirts sold downtown saying “Salt-free, shark-free, weed-free.”
Ten residents spoke against dispensaries and six spoke in favor of them during the first public comment section.
Common concerns were that having dispensaries in the city — and billboards advertising them — would normalize marijuana and make children more apt to use it.
Residents also worried that dispensaries would tarnish Ludington’s family-friendly reputation, taking away more tourist dollars than could be gained through marijuana tax revenue sharing with the state.
After one resident mentioned several substance-related car accidents in recent years, the father of Henry McDougall, a teen killed in a 2017 crash after smoking marijuana, came to the lectern.
“We did have a vote where people voted to legalize marijuana, but they didn’t vote in this city to have it in their backyard,” Gordon McDougall said. “One man stood up here and asked, ‘Why not now?’ … My son is the reason why not now. We don’t need this anymore.”
Other residents made several different points in favor of dispensaries.
Ron Soberalski, a trustee in Pere Marquette Charter Township, said dispensaries could be regulated through ordinances as windmills were in the township. A Ludington resident said dispensaries didn’t have to be abundant or prominently placed, and parents have the responsibility to lead by example, just as with alcohol.
Another noted that the substance alleviates joint pain prevalent in the senior population and asserted the inevitability of marijuana being federally legalized. A separate speaker in favor of dispensaries echoed the way that times have changed.
“The laws of the land around us have changed,” Ryan Reed said. “This substance is legal to possess and consume recreationally, and it is your charge as city leaders to navigate our community through that reorientation of that relationship.”
Several residents spoke during a second public comment section near the end of the meeting, either congratulating councilors for doing the right thing or expressing their disappointment.
“All I can say is wow,” said McDougall, father of the late Henry. “Very disappointing.”