Ontonagon says no to retail marijuana ordinance

ONTONAGON — After months of debating the issue at council meetings, two dozen people speaking during Public Comment, and crowded council chambers, the Ontonagon Village Council voted to opt out of allowing a marijuana retail store to open inside the village.

As it has been at numerous previous council meetings, people spoke during Public Comment. At Monday’s meeting, those who opposed to an ordinance allowing a retail store to open spoke out.  However the topic was not just being opposed to opting in, but if anyone on the council had a vested interest in a retail marijuana store opening.

That issue was not only brought up by Ontonagon Township resident, Jeff Lemke, but also by councilman Mike Mogen.

When newly appointed President Tony Smydra asked all the council members to comment on the issue before a vote is taken. Mogen alleged that councilor Sarah Hopper may have had a personal vested interest in a marijuana business. Mogen’s concerns come from his understanding that Hopper was interested in purchasing property of which they could sell that property to a marijuana business. This concern was based on communication Hopper had with former 110th State Representative Scott Dianda.

Dianda, who is employed by a firm looking at helping or opening marijuana retail businesses in the state. At the Aug. 12 meeting, Hopper stated she had been in contact with Dianda and that he stated there was a couple businesses interested in opening a marijuana retail business in the village.

Hopper alluded to that conversation in her response to Mogen.

“In my conversation with (Scott) Dianda, I requested what the zoning issues would be,” she said. “(I) talked to him about the meeting with the Planning Commission.”

Hopper, who initiated the issue by getting the council to vote not to opt out, but to get more information on the issue and hear from Dianda also affirmed that she had no interest.

“I have no invested interest in that business,” she said. “Dianda was interested in a business here. I asked him to come here to see what his interest is.”

Smydra quickly stated that Hopper had no vested interest, nor does he. Hopper, Smydra, Don Chastain, and former President Gerard Waldrop made it a 4-3 vote not to opt out of a marijuana retail business at a previous meeting. Waldrop was the tie-breaking vote as counsellors Mogen, John Hamm, and Elmer Marks that voted to opt out.

When Waldrop cast his vote, he was not a member of the village. Under Michigan law, he had to be a resident to hold the office, thus he resigned his position in September.

With the deadline approaching at the end of the month for the village to opt out of allowing a marijuana retail business, the necessity of a vote had to take place or under current state law, the village would allow a retail business to open.

This prompted local citizens to get the needed signatures to have the issue put on a Spring 2020 referendum. Those circulating petitions handed those petitions to Mogen at the start of the meeting.

One of those circulating the petitions, Linda Komula, village resident, made her point to the council.

“I would like to know how this (marijuana) business is beneficial to us. I think we are better than this…than having a marijuana shop in town,” she said.

Komula then drew an applause from those in the chambers.

“If I saw a marijuana shop in town, I would not move here,” she said.

Hamm reaffirmed his opposition to a marijuana retail store by making a statement.

“I don’t want Ontonagon to be the marijuana hub of the western U.P.,” he said.

Marks stated that the voters in Ontonagon Township voted no to the legalization of marijuana in the state in the 2018 ballot proposal (643-507).  

“The voters in this community did not want it,” he said. “They are the ones who put me in office. I go with them.”

Mogen agreed with Marks and stated that in his conversation with Ontonagon Sheriff Dale Rantala that both of them were concerned about the need for law enforcement if a retail store opened.

“That law enforcement would come from local authorities,” said Mogen.

When the issue of a referendum was brought up, Smydra was quick to point out that the referendum has not been brought to him.

Mogen reminded Smydra that the petitions would go to the clerk, not the president.

After continued debate, Mogen made the motion to opt out, and received a second from Hamm. Every council member, other than Hopper, voted to opt out and have an ordinance not allowing a marijuana retail business to open in the village.

The village continues to have an ordinance allowing for a medical marijuana business.