Evart residents take issue with recreational marijuana business

'Pot City' label upsets locals

Community members expressed their concerns about the sale of recreational marijuana at the city council meeting Dec. 16. Some residents shared their concerns about Evart apparently becoming known in some circles as

Community members expressed their concerns about the sale of recreational marijuana at the city council meeting Dec. 16. Some residents shared their concerns about Evart apparently becoming known in some circles as "Pot City." (Herald Review photo/Cathie Crew)

EVART -- Local residents showed up to voice their opposition to the sale and distribution of recreational marijuana within the city limits at the Evart City Council meeting Monday.

Lit Provisioning Center, located at 600 W. 7th St., was one of the first outlets in the state to sell recreational marijuana when it began on Dec. 6. People drove to Evart from as far away as Wisconsin to procure pot.

According to some in attendance, community members were "blind-sided" by the move and were not aware recreational marijuana was part of the ordinance approved by city council in June.

Evart Downtown Development Association member Lynn Salinas said she was present at the meeting in June when the marijuana ordinance was revised and she was not aware it was for opting in to recreational marijuana sales.

"I am embarrassed to say, I sat through that whole meeting and had no idea that you were opting in to recreational marijuana," Salinas said. "What the DDA members understood was that it was simply a clean-up of the language in the original medical ordinance. I wonder how we got from opting out in March to the revised ordinance to opt in in June. That's very concerning to me."

Salinas added that the online postings regarding the meetings where the topic was discussed only referenced medical marijuana and not recreational marijuana.

"The postings read 'medical' -- there was nothing that indicated to the citizens of the community that we were talking about opting in to recreational marijuana," she said.

Mayor John Joyce said he couldn't speak for the wording of the meeting posting, but the ordinance was posted and available for the public to read.

"The opt-out ordinance was just to give the city time to get the necessary ordinances in place to regulate the licensing and the facilities," Joyce said. "We said we were opting out until our lawyer could put together the ordinance and align it with the state recreational and medical regulations."

Business owner and DDA member Shannon Schmidt echoed those same sentiments, saying if there had been more communication as to what the meetings were about, she would have become more involved.

"The meetings were posted as a 'public hearing to discuss medical marijuana,'" Schmidt said. "By this communication, I would never have attended, because I am in favor of medical marijuana use for a cancer patient or someone like that. If I had known recreational was part of it, I would have been there to voice my opinion."

Attorney Will Thomas, who has been working with the city on development of the ordinance, said city officials had a public forum in early spring to discuss the draft ordinance where they went through the provisions.

"The city had three or four different ordinances, dealing with different aspects of the marijuana industry," Thomas said. "We came in to get a comprehensive ordinance that covered the state of marijuana law in Michigan and included the recreational, as well as medical, and grow facilities."

Drafts of the ordinances were posted online and they had language regarding recreational marijuana in them, he added.

"It was discussed at meetings, it was covered in many discussions, it was posted in a public forum," Thomas said. "The ordinance was out there, and I received questions on it prior to the public forum. It was up to the individual to be involved in the process."

Joyce said perhaps the postings could have been made clearer, but if the community was more engaged in the process, they would have know what was being discussed.

"We did not have just one meeting on recreational -- this happened over time," he said. "That is why I encourage everyone to attend our meetings.

"What we said as a council is that we would handle the DDA's request that it not be in the downtown area through our zoning ordinances," Joyce continued. "We made sure that the actual wording was in the zoning ordinance that it would not be allowed in the downtown area."

Other residents expressed concern that the city's image would suffer from the addition of recreational marijuana sales.

"I'm not opposed to medical marijuana," resident Dan Kleeves said. "What you do in the privacy of your own home is your business, but I'd like to know how the city feels about having it plastered in our faces.

"When you plaster it on the front page of every newspaper and every news channel as something glorious, that should have never been allowed," Kleeves continued. "I love this city, but that's an eyesore."

Harold Bowen agreed, saying he's lived in the city for 20 years and the "carnival" that is going on really annoys him.

"It's just about in my front yard," Bowen said. "I love my house, but if that stays there, I'm going -- I'm not living in this town. We're moving away from a peaceful, loving community."

Resident Jim Schwab said he heard someone refer to Evart as "Pot City," and it made him feel bad for his children and his grandchildren.

"They have so many hurdles coming at them already, and now to have this being promoted in Evart, I just think it isn't helping the city's image," Schwab said. "I think we've taken a step backwards."

One attendee spoke in favor of the ordinance, saying she believes Lit is a good thing, because the revenue generated will do a lot for the city and it is unlikely they will experience the problems that everyone is anticipating.

Joyce said the city council is looking at the possibility of an additional assessment on the sale of recreational marijuana that would be earmarked for education purposes.

"I think what we will see, as the state begins to take this over more and more, is that it is going to become more like cigarettes and alcohol, Joyce said. "Right now we have the option to keep it out of downtown, but at that point if you have a license, you'll have a right to do business anywhere. More than likely, you are going to see more of this in these communities."