By David Fleet
On Nov. 6, Michigan voters are going to be asked to join nine states and Washington, DC, who have legalized marijuana for recreational use for adults over the age of 21. Medical marijuana is legal in another 30 states after voters in Oklahoma OK’d a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana in June.
While Michigan communities grapple with the pot vote other states are already rolling along with the recreational weed. While demographics differ small Michigan communities could soon find marijuana stores opening.
Such was the case in Colorado when Amendment 64, was passed by voters on Nov. 6, 2012, which led to legalization in January 2014 and an economic boom for several communities in the state.
Michael Yerman, is the Community Development Director in Crested Butte, Colo. a small town of about 1,600 located 230 miles southwest of Denver in the mountains. In comparison Ortonville’s population is about 1,400 while Goodrich has 1,800 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
About five years ago the small Colorado community approved five marijuana licenses to sell of which four are currently filled, said Yerman, a former Ohio resident. The town also has several pot friendly hotels.
“We’ve seen two things following the approval of recreational marijuana,” said Yerman. “The fear side and the acceptance. To some extent (marijuana) was accepted here in the mountains before the legalization. It’s not like that in the Midwest as much. The approval of recreational marijuana legitimized the business, it took it from a black market commodity when it became legal. The cops reported getting it off the streets. The pot shops would report youth to police when they tried to buy marijuana with a fake id. If they sold it (to the minors) they would lose their licenses. When people bought marijuana legally the drug dealers left town. It took the drugs off the street corners and the pot dealers outside of the legal sales no longer existed.”
The funds generated the town about $200,000 per year, although Yerman says other nearby towns have jumped on the recreational marijuana bandwagon.
“The funds have since declined to about $130,000 in 2017,” he said. “Those funds are used to expanded the community granting programs and have benefited the schools.”
When the stores first opened—out of state residents arrived in town to buy marijuana, he said.
“It seemed the (marijuana) edibles were an issue at first,” he said. “They (edibles) take some time to kick in especially for the first time users. People were taking more than they should. But, since that time the pot shop owners have become very proactive for first time customers and help educate them.”
Unlike Crested Butte, Colo. nearby Mt. Crested Butte restricts the sale of marijuana in the village limits.
Jill Lindros works for the village and has lived in Mt. Crested Butte since 1994. The small skiing community has a permanent population of about 800 residents. About 10 years ago the village council passed a moratorium banning sales and growing of marijuana in the community.
“We have very limited commercial district,” said Lindros. “The town fathers did not find it appropriate to allow the sales in the village limits. Since that time it has not been challenged. It’s just not been on the table to change.”
But, there have been calls to the village inquiring about establishing a marijuana facility, said Lindros.
“Regarding is it a good or bad thing for our community?” she said. “It really depends who you ask. There is some economic benefits but our area schools still asks for money. The police may have a say too. But I suppose there’s some benefit.”
Lieutenant Greg Glover, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Brandon substation commander, a law enforcement professional for more than two decades finds no benefit and opposes the recreational marijuana proposal.
“Today’s marijuana is not what it was in the 1960s and 70s,” said Glover. “It’s not the pot of the hippy era where 5 percent THC was the norm. Today’s pot can be as much as 90 percent (THC).”
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical compound in cannabis responsible for a euphoric high.
Glover said that when law enforcement makes a traffic stop and the suspect doesn’t show the signs of being under the influence of alcohol but, are having the same effect, they are taken to the hospital for a blood draw.
“That’s how we are treating drug driving now,” he said. “We have deputies that are considered drug recognition experts.”
While there is no road side equipment to test suspects for drugs there are pilot programs being used.
“We are charging suspects for drug driving when the THC tests come back,” he said.
While drug driving is a concern—effects on the youth are a major issue. There are products on the market that target children available in other states that have allowed recreational marijuana, he said.
“The effects on the youth have been the emergency room visits with regard to marijuana effects on children have risen dramatically, ”he added. “In some states that allow recreational marijuana it’s tripled.”
Traffic deaths related to marijuana have risen by 35 percent. Emergency room visits increased by 52 percent following the legalization of marijuana, he said.
With regard to the black market drug dealers, Glover said look for an increase in their business if recreational marijuana is approved.
“There black market issues are now worse then ever,” he said. “The dope man wants to give you less product with the same bang. That’s a major fear in Colorado with the recreational marijuana, they are lacing it with products that will give you more of a high but less product. It’s causing the greater ER visits and more drug related traffic issues.”
Glover said seizures of Colorado marijuana in the mail system has increased 1,042 percent since recreational pot was approved. Violent crime increased by 19 percent and property crime is up by 8.5 percent.
“For the Brandon Township youth we will have a definite increase in traffic accidents,” he said. “Some related to traffic deaths. It will have an impact on the our volume of police calls, it will increase property crimes, and make an increase in violent crimes. It’s going to be a major issue for us, it can be sold and shared at school, they can buy it at a dispensary and sell it. Since medical pot was legalized here in Michigan the high school aged student will give you ten excuses why it’s good for you.”
Edgewater, Colo., located just west of Denver, has a population of about 5,200 people and a half-dozen pot shops. Kris Teegardin, is the former mayor of Edgewater and he supports the marijuana industry for good reason—the city collected just over $1.2 million in sales tax revenues from pot in 2016. Teegardin recently ran unsuccessfully on the Democratic ticket for the Colorado State House of Representatives—24th District.
“We are a very landlocked community,” said Teegardin. “Therefore we have no room for any industrial zoning or grow and process facilities. But what many people don’t realize is that the marijuana industry touches many parts of the economic sector—including agriculture, engineers and electricians. There are complex water and lighting systems, many levels of distribution—it’s an absolute wide myriad of jobs created.”
The downside has been nonexistent, he added.
“It’s been a wonderful boom to our community,” he said. “The shops are open until midnight and they have been great neighbors. Our DUIs are up slightly, but we also have more traffic in the city. The key is security, Colorado has been very strict and it shows.”
However, even if Michigan voters pass Proposal-1 municipalities like Atlas, Brandon and Groveland township can choose whether they want commercial medical marijuana businesses within their borders.
“If they pass the marijuana vote this November for the recreational use and everyone thinks the will,” said Bob DePalma, Groveland Township supervisor. “We need to do a resolution to the state telling them specifically we do not want them here. In the past we could just do nothing and it was enough.”