City of Midland reluctant to go into cannabis retail

Many large communities in the Great Lakes Bay Area and central Michigan have opted to license marijuana businesses, including Bay City, Saginaw, Mount Pleasant, and Pinconning Township.

However, the city of Midland is still hesitant to join them.

When Michigan voters chose to legalize recreational marijuana in the state of Michigan in 2018, the Midland City Council chose not to let these businesses operate here, whether medical or non-medical. However, a council member lobbied to allow hobby shops to operate here in Chemical Town.

The council withdrew from the marijuana businesses in 2019 with a unanimous vote, due to a lack of state direction at that time. The subject of membership came up again last year when the council asked city attorney Jim Branson to explore the possibility of joining. He presented his findings in January and the board discussed his options.

However, the council members were torn over what to do. Council member Pam Hall wanted the city to agree and said it should consider allowing marijuana businesses to operate professionally. Mayor Maureen Donker didn’t think it was a priority and many people could go to surrounding communities if they wanted cannabis. Council member Steve Arnosky suggested that existing businesses be allowed to operate marijuana testing labs.

Ultimately, the council ordered Branson to explore the possibility of allowing marijuana testing and transportation businesses into the city.

Council member Diane Brown Wilhelm recently told the Daily News that she was hesitant to support membership due to concerns about children’s exposure to cannabis. She wants to see more data on what a retail business entails and the effect membership has on a community, because it would be hard to go back if the city later regretted agreeing.

“We have to have very strategic discussions,” Brown Wilhelm said.

But for his part, Hall said studies done in Colorado have been clear about how marijuana regulation has reduced cannabis use among school-aged children. People shouldn’t have to leave town to buy recreational marijuana or to get it for medical treatment, she said.

Hall also spoke about the possibility of economic opportunities that could present themselves to Midland if she committed to them. Municipalities can raise revenue from licensing and an excise tax on recreational marijuana.

Steve Scott, owner of Craft Hemp Company in Midland, said elected officials and lawmakers don’t often use their due diligence to look into the marijuana industry and its benefits. If Midland opted for transportation and marijuana testing only, Scott said the city wouldn’t see the job creation and tax benefits it would get with additional retail options.

Bay City embraced marijuana businesses in 2019, with around 20 retail stores alone opening in the city since then. George Martini, Bay City’s director of tax services, said the city puts the marijuana revenue it earns into its general fund, which funds most of the city’s major departments.

Bay City’s total marijuana revenue collection includes:

  • 2018: $130,000
  • 2019: $40,000
  • 2020: $188,500
  • 2021: $426,704

Hall said Midland lacked funds that could be spent on capital improvements and could attract more business talent to the city.

“More than enough time has shown the benefits for communities that allow marijuana,” Hall said.

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