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Public speaks out on marijuana in Ontonagon

The Ontonagon Village Council chambers were packed at the Aug. 25 Village Council meeting.  The issue that brought people out dealt with the Aug. 12 council meeting where four members tabled a motion for the village to “opt out” of allowing a marijuana retail business in the village.

At that Aug. 12 meeting, trustee Sarah Hopper pushed for the village to allow for marijuana retail businesses. Supporting a motion to table a motion to prohibit retail sale was Village President Gerard Waldrop, Tony Smydra, and Don Chastain.  The motion to look into allowing for retail sales passed by a 4-3 vote. 

At this meeting, Smydra did not attend.

“I’m not here to support opt in or opt out,” said Eric Hopper, Sarah’s husband, “but I am here to get our elected officials to make reasonable, objective, and scientific decisions when you look at this.” 

He agreed with the proposal to have the village voters decide through a referendum.

Hopper than went on to say that marijuana is legal in Michigan, “and that anyone over 21 in Ontonagon can consume, grow, freely share marijuana with each other and transport marijuana through our village.”

“To me it only makes sense to look at the economic advantages,” he said. “To get rid of the blight and to boost tourism. The issues of Marijuana are already here. To me it’s a no brainer.”

Deb Seid stated that village residents voted down the legalization of Recreational Marijuana on the 2018 ballot. 

“I would like to remind the council that you were elected to represent the village,” she said.

Following Seid’s comments Village Resident, Walt Hardell stated that he has been in contact with elected officials. A response he got from State Senator McBroom’s office is that once you opt in, it will be more difficult to opt out. 

“He said once you opt in it will be very difficult to opt out,” said Hardell.  This was in reference to once a business has been established. 

“If the village decides to opt in, and two years down the road the village is losing money on the deal and it’s not working out the way it should, we’re going to have a very difficult time opting out, as it (the law) is written now,” he said. “I grew up in a city of drug dealers, legal or not, and I don’t like them.”

Mike Richter, who stated he is not a resident of Michigan but owns property in Carp Lake Township, and drove three hours to attend and speak at the meeting. He recently retired after 36 years in law enforcement, 12 in the Narcotics Division.  He continued by saying that in Wisconsin, the voters of Milwaukee have the deciding vote.

“Detroit mandates what happens here.” He said. 

He felt Ontonagon voters are not the same as those in Detroit.  Richter stated how he comes to the area to recreate. 

“I see god-fearing good people that live here,” Richter said. “These are not hellraisers, troublemakers here.”

What drew the ire of Hopper while Richter was speaking came nest.

“Every single person that uses Meth, started with Marijuana,” said Richter. 

Hopper then interrupted Richter by questioning if he has any facts to substantiate that claim. While Richter did not respond to Hopper’s question, he did go into the impact the use of Marijuana by parents have on children.

“The kids need to be supervised and the parents are stoned,” said Richter. “What about the children that have parents, adults that have the legal right to be stoned. What about those kids? Everyone thinks that legalizing marijuana or selling it on Main Street of Ontonagon is about an adult decision. Know it has an impact on others.  Children don’t get to choose while mom and dad are getting high.”

When Richter questioned the economic advantages of selling what he says is an addictive substance (marijuana) in the village, Village President Gerard Waldrop intervened briefly

“We love this area,” Richter said. “We don’t want to see it become the marijuana hub.”

Council member John Hamm commended Richter for driving so far to speak, and member Mike Mogen agreed.

“You are right 100% on with my experience and thank you,” said Mogen.

Waldrop stated that since marijuana is already legal in Michigan, it is the duty of the council to look at every entrepreneurial opportunity the same, including allowing for the retail sale of marijuana in the village.  “We’re not asking to be the marijuana hub or capital,” said Waldrop. “You got to be careful that we got the press here and that gets in the paper. That is not our intention at all.” 

Waldrop stated he supports putting this issue as a referendum vote of the residents, “but we’re not there yet.  We’re going through the proper steps.”

“Forget about the money, we don’t have the law enforcement that can handle it if it gets out of hand,” said resident Tom Hamilton, who also commended Richter.

A public comment came from an individual that said, “If you want to get a real ‘high,’ go to the Porkies and watch the sunset.  That high won’t affect others.”

Eric Hopper than spoke again stating that he has used medical and recreational marijuana for 20 years and in reference to Richter’s comments about children, he stated that his children are not being neglected. 

“I’m not getting high and they are not getting food,” Hopper said. “I think this is a ridiculous statement that this applies to everyone. I use it responsibly.”

An individual asked Hopper if he gets high around his children.

“No, they are not 21,” he said.

Former State Representative Scott Dianda, representing Tranquility Fields out of Ann Arbor, gave a presentation as to how that company is looking at partnering with local entrepreneurs in opening retail marijuana businesses.

After Dianda’s presentation, SSgt Matt Labonte of the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team gave his neutral position on the village allowing for a retail marijuana business in the village.

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