Buchanan votes to adopt state medical marijuana law

Published 9:41 am Wednesday, March 29, 2017

It is full steam ahead for plans to allow medical marijuana businesses in the City of Buchanan as the city council Monday night voted 4-1 in favor of adopting a resolution to opt in to Michigan’s medical marijuana facilities licensing act.
The city has hosted a number of forums to give folks on all sides of the issue a chance to weigh in. Many shared medical benefits of the substance, while others shared apprehension about it creeping into their neighborhoods. The same emotion shared at previous meetings was palpable as the council made its decision.
Councilwoman Carla Cole, who voted in favor of opting in to the licensing act, explained her reasoning after the vote.
“I’m old as dirt, guys. I’m at the age where I’m thinking, ‘What happens if I get sick? What if they [doctors] don’t have medications to help me?’” she said, choking back tears. “I’ve watched family members suffer, holding their hands while they’re dying. And there’s not a damn thing I can do for them. So, that’s why I voted yes. And the vets who come here, who come back from war to help us, they need help. How can I say no?”
Initially, Cole expressed her preference for the council to postpone a vote because she was concerned about how the state would answer the remaining questions the council had about the opt-in law, but a motion by councilman Dan Vigansky and a second by councilman Dale Toerne forced a vote.

Expressing concern
Cole was disappointed by the number of threatening letters, emails and anonymous phone calls she and other councilpersons received prior to the vote.
“‘Life is better here,’ and I get this from Buchanan’s people?” Cole said, referencing the city’s slogan. “That’s not the kind of attitude I thought we had here.”
Councilwoman Pat Moore was the lone no-vote on the council and was concerned about public safety — medical marijuana provision centers may only deal in cash transactions — and that the state would renege on its promise to allocate a percentage of funds gained from the sale of marijuana to municipalities with facilities. Moore cited information provided to her by City Administrator Bill Marx that the state is in arrears to Buchanan for revenue sharing profits.
“Twenty years ago, we [Buchanan] had a similar kind of arrangement [with the state] with revenue sharing. We were supposed to get a portion, and it was supposed to be a certain amount,” Moore said. “Over that 20 years, we have lost, the number City Manager Bill Marx gave me, $2.2 million that the state owes the City of Buchanan.”
Mayor Brenda Hess explained to the crowd in attendance that she had spent countless hours outside of work and city hall and away from her family researching the topic, and her decision was not made lightly or under pressure to conform.
“I realized [through researching the medical marijuana issue] that sometimes the things you learn when you’re growing up, and when you run in certain social circles, you [unconsciously] believe what everyone around you believes, without ever questioning it,” Hess said.
Superintendent of Buchanan Schools Andrea van der Laan, who was in attendance and spoke prior to the vote during public comments, said she is worried about the message the council’s decision will send to children in the community.
“When you put conflicting information in the hands of the kids [about drug use] then, like I said they watch what we do, they don’t always listen to what we say,” she said. “I don’t think they think things through enough to understand the difference between, ‘this is a medicine, medical marijuana,’ as opposed to ‘it’s marijuana and I can smoke it.’”
Van der Laan also said she believes that passing legislation to allow medical marijuana facilities in the City of Buchanan is in direct conflict with the city’s small town image.
“I’m very disappointed [in the council’s decision],” van der Laan said. “Not because I’m against medical marijuana — I do believe there are people in the community who need it — I just don’t want to see it here in Buchanan, simply because of the way the town has been marketed.”
But Hess believes that caring for all members of the community is what Buchanan stands for.
“I think this whole thing has just gotten muddled with recreational use,” she said. “And people aren’t understanding that this is all about medicine and making choices for yourself for different ways to try [to medicate]. I hear about the heroin epidemic, which is a direct result of people getting narcotics from their regular doctor. I’m not OK with that.”
When it comes to children in the community, Hess has faith in Buchanan parents.
“I have confidence in the parents in the community to explain [the law] to their children,” she said. “People were very concerned [with], ‘well what message are we sending to the children?’ What message we’re sending to the children is that there are alternate ways of taking care of yourself.”

Continued engagement
Vigansky, an outspoken supporter of opting in to the medical marijuana act, said he hopes that the community remains engaged.
“This [licensing act] can be a real positive thing. I’d like to see half of you, or all of you, at these [planning] commission meetings,” he said. “And not just because you’re mad about something, because we do need your input. We do need to reach out to you.”
Vigansky explained to the crowd that the council had not passed legislation allowing a provision center, but was instead adopting state law.
“We’re moving on [with this vote], that’s all we’re doing,” he said. “We have adopted the state law. The legality has already been going on for nine years.”
Councilwoman Moore wanted to assuage the public’s fear during her comment portion.
“I know many of you are disappointed, but don’t lose heart,” she said. “This is the beginning of a process. We believe in democracy. And this is how it works.
“Life is better here. We heard it from everyone. And it will continue to be better here. We will make sure that everyone is protected as much as we can. The planning commission will work hard to make sure that this is something that is not hopefully even noticeable by anyone.”
The issue will now move forward to the zoning and planning committee, where an official city ordinance and an official planning ordinance will be developed to determine the number and type of facilities that may be allowed in the city as well as lawful locations a facility may be located.
During the meeting, the council approved the consent calendar, which contained the resignation of Bill Norton from the planning commission due to a change in his work schedule, and approved the appointment of Vanessa Burns, who has attended many of the meetings on medical marijuana the city has hosted. Burns, a hospice social worker, has spoken in favor of medical marijuana as a medication but has been vocal in her opposition to locating a provision center on Bluff Street — the initial location proposed by Buchanan resident Johnny Wallace.
As the process moves forward to the planning and zoning commission, Cole hopes that the community is able to keep its emotions in check.
“I hope we don’t see any nasty letters [about the council’s decision] and threats and phone calls,” Cole said to the crowd. “That’s not Buchanan. Not at all.”