County poises for potential legalization of marijuana

NILES — On Monday night city council members heard a first reading of a proposed resolution intended to completely prohibit marijuana establishments. This would exclude the medical marijuana business that earned city approval late last year.

City leaders emphasized that this resolution would not impact the medical marijuana facilities that the council already granted approval of.

Prior to the first reading, one resident, Jill Meuninck, spoke out against the proposed resolution and said that approving it would be a disservice to residents.

“I ask the city council to absolve this proposal and to let the voters decide what is best,” she said. “To preemptively pass this resolution is both a concerning and unlawful gesture from the council.”

Following the vote, a few council members emphasized that the proposed resolution is not a reversal policy, rather it was created to allow city leaders to take a step back and wait to see what happens this election.     

Councilmember John DiCostanzo expressed this sentiment.

“I’m all in favor of getting new businesses in the cit., I think the whole idea of this is to be a temporary ordinance to assess what the ramifications of this new law would be,” DiCostanzo said.

For her part, councilmember Gretchen Bertschy emphasized that the proposal does not apply to pending medical marijuana licenses that the city approved.

“We haven’t changed our mind on those businesses with whom we have offered the opportunity to go in front of the state,” Bertschy said.

Councilmember Daniel VandenHeede also concurred with fellow city leaders.

“This is a way to put on the brakes and see where this goes, because it is a moving target with recreational coming and we don’t know how the state is going to handle those businesses,” VandenHeede said. “It’s easier to go back and rescind this ordinance than to start over.”

The proposal will be brought back to the council for action when council members meet next at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12, at the Niles Fire Station Complex, 1345 E. Main St.

Across Berrien and Cass counties, municipal and county leaders have been asserting a stance on the hot topic issue.

County commissioners vote to express opposition to recreational marijuana

During their regularly scheduled meeting Thursday, the Berrien County commissioners asserted their stance on recreational marijuana when they passed a resolution opposing the legalization of non-medical marijuana.

The resolution was approved with a vote of seven in favor, three in opposition and one abstention from a commissioner who wanted more information.

County commissioner Jim Curran, who voted in favor of the resolution, said the resolution has no legal bearing and will be filed with the county clerk’s department. He said it was not intended to influence voters’ decision on recreational marijuana. Rather, he said the goal was for commissioners to show support to the three entities who have expressed opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana. Those entities include the Berrien County Health Department, Berrien County prosecutor and Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey.

“I felt the resolution was a good way to support those three professionals who are in opposition to it,” Curran said.

Commissioners’ vote followed a presentation by Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sepic, with the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office. The presentation included predictions on how recreational marijuana could potentially impact, youth, roads, workplaces and healthcare. The effort of which was to show how recreational marijuana is “bad for Michigan.”

Sepic said the information was largely collected by Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz, who has expressed ardent opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana. Fitz has expressed his opposition before multiple governing bodies in Cass and Berrien counties.

Fitz collected the information for the presentation using 11 sources, several of which are news articles, as well as information for the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

When asked whether the argument presented at Thursday’s meeting appeared one-sided, as those in favor of recreational marijuana have cited potential benefits, including tax revenue, Sepic said he believes the cons outweigh any benefits.

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