Whitewater Township pot business vote coming

·4 min read

Jun. 10—WILLIAMSBURG — Whitewater Township residents will vote in August on whether to allow non-medical marijuana businesses.

Linda Slopsema, a township resident and member of its parks and recreation committee, gathered 169 signatures to get the question on the Aug. 3 ballot, she said. She's personally opposed to using cannabis and has concerns about the social implications, but stressed the petition isn't about telling anyone they can't light up — use, including non-medical, would remain legal if voters agree to disallow businesses in the township.

Instead, Slopsema said she's concerned over what she sees as a rush by township leaders to open up the township to businesses — namely growers and processors — its voters opposed in 2018 when people across the state approved a ballot question decriminalizing non-medical marijuana use.

Meanwhile, the township could face legal action from one business owner trying to sell a building their attorney said is perfectly positioned for a marijuana growing business, if only someone could apply.

Michael Corcoran, an attorney for Northpoint Farms, argued the owners should have been able to apply for what is now legal under both state law and township ordinance, the latter since December, but zoning rules are still in the works six months later.

"I've been doing zoning for 31 years, and no way should it take this long, and townships have been penalized by courts for deliberately slow-dragging their feet," Corcoran said.

Township Planning Commission Chairwoman Kim Mangus rejected similar allegations from township Clerk Cheryl Goss, who in an email accused Mangus of trying to stall planning commission debate until after the election.

Mangus forcefully denied that she's "sandbagging" the rules when addressing township trustees at a recent meeting. Instead, the planning commission wanted to see input on draft zoning rules from the township attorney first, input they only recently received, she said.

Messages left with Goss weren't returned Wednesday.

Those rules would apply to both medical and non-medical cannabis businesses, Mangus said after the meeting. She couldn't speak for the township but said in her view, the planning commission — left shorthanded at four out of seven spots amid an ongoing appointment impasse among township trustees — has done an admirable job in moving the issue forward.

It's possible the planning commission could meet again before its regularly scheduled July meeting to discuss the ordinances, the third such special meeting on the topic since March, Mangus said. She acknowledged planners rejected as unsatisfactory a previous draft submitted to them earlier in the year.

Township voters in 2018 narrowly came out against decriminalizing non-medical marijuana — commonly referred to as adult-use — after favoring the same for medical marijuana in 2008, said county Clerk Bonnie Scheele, citing election results. The final tally was 728 for yes, 807 for no — a majority of voters across the state approved it.

Slopsema argued that agreeing to decriminalize statewide is an altogether different question than whether to allow it in a local government.

She said she started the petition and circulated it with some help from a citizens committee twice after the township rejected the first attempt, she said. She was concerned over how many grow operations the rules would allow, operations that more closely resemble factories when done indoors.

That might be more palatable to township residents if zoning limited operations to the township's industrial and commercial areas along M-72 and Moore Road, Slopsema said. And she's sympathetic to farmers who are looking for a new crop in the face of sagging prices, particularly for cherries, she said.

But the more she learned, including about potential environmental impacts from processing, the more concerned she became that township rules allowed for way too many businesses.

"I think it's a really big deal, and it became really obvious that the township board hadn't even considered any of this," she said.

A message left for Township Supervisor Ron Popp wasn't returned Wednesday.

Mangus said Wednesday she's not inclined to rush through the rules, either, and wants to be sure they're done right.

Trustees approved ordinances allowing both medical and non-medical marijuana growers and processors in December amid a contentious debate briefly interrupted by a Michigan State Police trooper over a complaint the meeting violated COVID-19 orders restricting public gatherings, an order the Michigan State Department of Health and Human Services wasn't enforcing against local governments engaging in regular business.

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