City Council to decide if Hamtramck’s marijuana question moves to popular vote

By Simon Albaugh – Yemeni American News

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. – It’s been decided, redecided and decided again. Hamtramck’s relationship with the Marijuana industry is about to become a lot more strained since a petition with around 500 signatures has effectively blocked the City Council’s final decision to prevent new recreational marijuana dispensaries from operating inside Hamtramck.

Today, City Council will decide on whether to reverse the decision it made on marijuana dispensaries, or push the issue to a city-wide vote in a May. Critics of the petition say this would remove the decision-making power of the majority of the city’s Bengali and Yemeni population. Councilmembers say this large portion of the city is popularly against the marijuana industry operating in Hamtramck.

However, one petition organizer said that this is more about trying to ensure that the unintended consequences of a decision like this won’t negatively impact the city. Already, a lawsuit was filed in Wayne County Circuit Court against the city for denying a zoning variance based on the correct guess that the building would be a marijuana dispensary.

“I think all the volunteers were upset to see how [the decision] went down,” said Linda Ward, the petition’s organizer. “City Council didn’t address it appropriately when they should have. And now that they waited until the 11th hour, we’re in a position where we are more than likely going to get sued… that’s really the biggest motivation, I think, between the volunteers and the people who are signing.”

It’s difficult to understand exactly how many marijuana dispensaries intend to open within Hamtramck. According to Hamtramck City Clerk, more than eight marijuana dispensaries have approached the city with interest. However, no city official says that they gave express approval for the businesses to operate, but rather acted in accordance with Michigan law to say that they could’ve legally started a marijuana business. This was at a time when there were no recreational marijuana laws in Hamtramck.

Petitioner Linda Ward goes to someone’s home to get a signature

Where the line is drawn

In an effort to regulate which marijuana businesses have moved far enough through the process of opening, Councilman Ian Perrotta introduced an amendment to the final Marijuana Prohibition Ordinance. The amendment would set the Certificate of Attestation as the deciding factor for which businesses could open. However, the amendment was struck down by a majority vote.

Later, another ordinance that would’ve regulated the already-existing marijuana dispensaries did not pass, leading the councilmember who introduced the ordinance to resign. At this moment, no clear understanding of who can open, and what they’re legally able to do is available for Hamtramck dispensaries.

Part of this challenge can be attributed to the staunch position of the council, which is almost split based on the issue, with a slight majority that is staunchly against marijuana businesses.

The first marijuana dispensary to open in Hamtramck on Holbrook Avenue.

An issue too big for the city to handle.

Before this question took to national media, city council initially voted against opting-out of the marijuana industry with two members absent from voting. There’s been a lot of blaming, with newly-appointed councilman Almasmari saying he didn’t trust the two councilmembers to vote against allowing marijuana businesses in Hamtramck.

The issue became a major point of debate when a marijuana dispensary called Pleasantrees opened for business on Holbrook Avenue. The dispensary says it’s going to try and be good corporate neighbors and has made itself available for interviews and other events for dialogue, however this hasn’t been likely to change the attitude of the city toward the drug.

Since Pleasantrees first opened, two more marijuana dispensaries have opened in the city, with City Manager Kathleen Angerer confirming that another is looking to take advantage of what’s  likely to be suspension of the marijuana prohibition ordinance. The dispensary could use the suspension in order to begin the process of starting another marijuana business in Hamtramck.

The vote on what to do next with the petition, which has reached the necessary number of signatures for City Council to reconsider the issue, will happen today. City council is now forced to either push this issue to a referendum, or throw out the entire ordinance. As City manager Angerer has made clear, the issue is yet to be resolved. “Our concern is going to be what happens next,” Angerer said.

Hamtramck is composed of a slowly dwindling catholic population, with a growing influx of Arab American and Bengali American residents. Although this issue isn’t a uniquely religious issue – more than 1,300 other Michigan communities have successfully opted out of the marijuana industry – many people cite their religious beliefs as a base for their position on this issue.

A majority of citizens asking for something is a perfectly acceptable rationale for supporting this issue. However, the issue has produced a vitriolic debate online, with proponents of both sides of the issue escalating the argument. One proponent of banning dispensaries accused supporters of knowingly letting the first dispensary open. On the other side of the debate, others accuse the other side of pushing a religious agenda on a city that has been catholic for a near majority of its history.

Regardless, the issue may have gone much further than it should have. From the beginning, the issue may not have been handled as it should have, with the pains of retroactively banning marijuana being a challenge that may be too great for the city to handle.