Cassopolis votes to opt out of medical marijuana

CASSOPOLIS — A debate that sparked many impassioned speeches, tension among residents and more than one dedicated village council meeting has been settled in Cassopolis.

Last week, the Cassopolis Village Council voted to opt out of adopting medical marijuana ordinances, which would have allowed dispensaries, growing operations and processing operations within the village limits. The vote against opting out was split 4-3, with council members Katherine Yoder, David Johnson, Geraldine Sims and Frank Williams voting in favor of the opt out resolution and Kim Parson, Cynthia Jackson-Ash and Eugene Wagner voting against the resolution.

The resolution was based off a resolution by the municipality of Vandalia, that had opted out of medical marijuana ordinances.

By state laws, the village was already opted out of medical marijuana ordinances, because municipalities must have a clear opt in vote in order to allow medical marijuana businesses to operate. However, according to Village President Johnson, the vote last week was about making a statement against medical marijuana in the village.

“There were people in the village who felt that the state’s automatic opt out wasn’t making a statement that we weren’t interested,” Johnson said. “We felt this was the right thing to do.”

Medical marijuana became a topic of discussion with the village council in November 2017, after John Campbell and Raj Zinzuvadia presented to the board about the possibility of opening a dispensary and grow operation in the village.

The presentation sparked debate among council members and the community about whether or not the medical marijuana industry should be welcomed in Cassopolis. Both Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz and Cass County Sheriff Richard Behnke recommended that the village not vote to opt in for medical marijuana based on beliefs that medical marijuana would increase crime and hurt residents. Other community members argued that medical marijuana could grow the village’s economy and help residents.

After months of research and debate, Johnson said that it was time for the council to make a decision.

“The council members that wanted it were pretty solidified in their opinion, as were those who didn’t,” Johnson said. “We decided, as a council, that we should just cast a vote that just says we aren’t interested at all in having a dispensary in Cassopolis. So, that’s what they did.”

Johnson said that the overwhelming majority of people he and the council have spoken to have been against bringing medical marijuana to Cassopolis.

“We are trying to make people understand that Cassopolis is a family community and that we don’t want to make our young people to feel, ‘well, if it’s legal to have a dispensary, it must be OK to smoke marijuana,’” Johnson said. “To allow something to remain open and vague that we may be able to open a dispensary here, people just didn’t like that.”

Council member Parsons has been vocally in favor of bringing medical marijuana to Cassopolis, citing the medical conditions that she believes it can help ease the symptoms of. She said that though she was disappointed by the vote last week, she respects the decision of the council and the will of her constituents.

“It wasn’t the decision I was hoping for,” Parsons said of the opt-out resolution. “At the end of the day, if that decision reflects what the majority of our residents want, then I support and respect that.”

Though the resolution against medical marijuana was passed, it doesn’t mean that medical marijuana friendly-ordinances cannot be implemented by another council down the road.

“[The vote] just means that, at the present, this council has said they don’t want it,” Johnson said. “A resolution can be voted out just as easily as it is voted in. … This was just a message to the community that we understand that we are opted-out automatically and that we are not ignorant of the fact that we are opted out.”

Village Manager Emilie Sarratore said that Cassopolis leaders will continue to welcome discussion and input from community members on the topic of medical marijuana.

“The council as it sits did believe that this was in the best interest of the residents and that they heard more from residents who were wishing [the council] to be firm in their opt-out than on the other side of the matter,” Sarratore said. “But we of course want to hear from the people and to address their concerns.”

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