By Joe Tilton
Doug Crowley (Supervisor), Jessica Shearer (Clerk) and Rose Hyde (Treasurer) all voted “yes,” to wording in a proposed ordinance to allow three, and possibly nine, marijuana dispensaries in Montcalm Township during their monthly Board meeting, Wednesday the 10th. Trustees Tim Rau and Steve Sprague voted “no.”
A crowd of approximately 50 were not allowed to speak on the issue before the vote, and details of the Ordinance were not read or explained. As with the Board, it was the same year-old issue of whether residents were for or against legalization of marijuana sales in the Township.
“Control” seemed to be the main argument in favor of legalization, with the premise that the Montcalm Township Fire Chief, Cliff Dickinson, or the Sheriff, could control marijuana quality and activities in the township. However, after the meeting we asked Dickinson if he knew of his role in the process and his answer was, “No, I haven’t seen it,” and asked to see our copy. He glanced over it and then went to the Clerk’s office his own copy. In the motion to approve the proposed ordinance wording, Supervisor Crowley said, “This way we can control it.” During Planning Board hearings, donations of equipment from marijuana proponents to the fire department were implied if not promised. The Sheriff has not been notified.
Tim Rau gave a compelling explanation of why the Board should vote against the ordinance. He referred to evidence presented in hearings in July 2018 plus contact with residents. Rau’s reminder of revenues per township license is not enough to cover the cost of ongoing “control,” much less administration issues. He also referred to statements from the “pro” crowd, calling Board members “criminals” if they voted against it. Declining property values in a drug-permissive township were also raised by Rau. Complaints had been heard in the Planning Board hearing how the “horrible smell” was offensive to surrounding property owners. The “smell” comes from pot-processing locations in the township. The answer to the issue, pronounced by Planning Chair, Richard Karnatz, was carbon filters, yet the Ordinance has no requirements for filters.
“No other township is ‘jumping on the bandwagon,’ Rau said. “For some reason Montcalm [Township] is being targeted.” A reference to a Facebook post was also made; claiming the “next step” is recreational. The ordinance does not accommodate “recreational” sales in any way.
The Ordinance gives sweeping powers to the Clerk, who, while smiling, seconded the motion. The Fire Chief had not seen the Ordinance, yet the Clerk must have been aware of her control over licenses. Under “license requirements,” the Ordinance reads; “Any transfer, sale or purchase of the Township license must receive prior Clerk approval. Any attempt to transfer, sell, purchase, or otherwise convey any interest in a Township license without prior Clerk approval is grounds for revocation of the Township license.” Additionally, it’s only the Clerk who receives applications.
The Ordinance also reads; “Upon verification by the Clerk [not an attorney, judge or state] that the application complies with the requirements of the [state] Act and this section, the Clerk shall issue the requested Township license.” This provision gives the Clerk the power to issue a license without a Board vote, and annual renewal as well. Does this mean the Clerk, Jessica Shearer, can license the people she wants without Board oversight? Apparently so. Her qualifications for making necessary judgments are missing from the Ordinance.
Penalties for fraud or misrepresentations or attempts to go around the Clerk carry a fine, not to exceed, $500 and imprisonment for not more than 90 days. Under this section, no procedure is laid out for arrest, court action, jurisdiction, and instructions to a prosecutor, reference to State or Federal Law, or information requesting use of the county jail. Is the infraction a felony or misdemeanor? Additionally, there is no provision for multiple offenses. Constitutional prohibitions against double jeopardy mean such charge could be filed and adjudicated once. A “dealer” could, for a $500 fine instead of a $5000 license, operate in the Township if he has a state license. Basically, in this reporter’s opinion, there’s no “teeth” in the Ordinance for violations. The fine is a light slap on the hand, opening the door to loss of control the Board claims to have solved, which raises the question; who wrote the Ordinance?
Another section of the ordinance appears to fly in the face of reason as it relates to the public the township claims to protect. Under “Purpose and Intent,” paragraph 4, the Ordinance reads, “Preserve and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of the Township and the general public by minimizing the unsafe or unregulated production and sale of marijuana.” This section appears to assume the lie that “marijuana never killed anybody,” and will not. This Ordinance is void of production standards, even after testimony in the Planning Board hearing that 80-percent of pot in the county is unfit for human consumption. Evidence presented a year ago in Township public hearings, showed multiple dangers. In the year since the hearings, more evidence, including reports from California documenting 593 deaths and Colorado’s 2016 death toll of 530, plus mental illnesses and crime statistics, appear to negate the “health, safety and welfare” section of the ordinance.
In an article in another newspaper, this reporter was accused of “bias” as it relates to marijuana sales in this county. Perhaps my “bias” comes from the death of my only child, caused by a marijuana/alcohol combination. Too, due diligence from information gathered from in-person attendance of three major-national events in Miami, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., plus continued correspondence with health and mental-health professionals, have proven tragic results from marijuana use. If justice prevails, should this Ordinance approved (or be approved) by Montcalm Township be struck down based alone on evidence against the health, safety and welfare of residents in and around the Township?
Following the meeting and during a conversation with the county’s most vocal proponent of marijuana, David Overholt, I asked, “What about Federal Law?”
“Haven’t you read the Constitution?” he asked.
“Yes, I have,”
“Then you know we have a right to disobey a law that’s unjust,” he answered.
Under this premise, a marijuana grower/dealer can state he doesn’t agree with the Township Ordinance, State or Federal Law and violate it with impunity.
Can law be ignored if we don’t like it? If true, what’s the point of creating law? Is the Board being led down a dangerous legal path, or excusing violation of their own Ordinance if someone doesn’t like it?
The zoning ordinance section of the proposal was tabled, effectively delaying implementation and extending the argument.
An offer was made to connect the Fire Chief with a mental-health (PhD) professional who could advise on control issues. Email contact was made with response indicating interest when the ordinance is official.
The signature page does not require Board member signatures; only the Clerk’s. The Clerk is also on Planning as a Board liaison.
Reporter’s Note: Confusion followed the meeting. Another reporter in the room also believed the document was approved as an Ordinance, however others think only the wording was approved. If the second observation is correct, there is still a vote to come.
Details of what the fees are for a license and how much the township receives was not explained. By Law, the township could receive as little as $1,300, or only $5,000 should their actual cost be above that.
Being labeled “bias” on this subject, as I have been, calls attention to the dangers of pot being legal and its use. This label is accepted with pride but comes with a warning: Loss of a child for any reason, but particularly a lie that “it never killed anybody” when it clearly has, is a most painful and grieving experience, even for a reporter. Please read the following article on why legalization is popular with some.