By Robert Tomlinson
THREE RIVERS — The possibility of recreational marijuana consumption lounges in Three Rivers has seemingly gone down in flames.
During their meeting Tuesday, the Three Rivers City Commission shot down the second reading of an ordinance amendment that would have allowed for consumption lounges to apply for a special exception use permit (SEU) to operate in the city. If it was approved, proposed lounges would have been allowed to apply for SEU permits in the B-3 zoning area, which spans the downtown area of the city.
The vote was 4-2 against the motion to approve the ordinance, with Mayor Tom Lowry and At-Large Commissioner Torrey Brown voting in favor of the ordinance, and At-Large Commissioner Lucas Allen, Third District Commissioner Chris Abel, First District Commissioner Pat Dane and Fourth District Commissioner Carolyn McNary voting against the ordinance. Second District Commissioner Steven Haigh was absent.
The amendment was considered after it was brought to the planning commission via a petition submitted by Daly Broekema, owner of recreational marijuana retailer Daly Dope, who wants to open a consumption lounge on the third story of her business at 113 Portage Ave. that would be open to anyone 21 years old and older and also host cannabis education classes. The third story of the building is currently vacant.
Commissioners previously approved a first reading of the ordinance amendment at their last meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 4, setting up the public hearing. Multiple concerns were discussed at that particular meeting were discussed, with more also brought up during commissioner discussion.
The few people who spoke to the commission in public comment prior to discussion voiced their support for the amendment, including Broekema herself. She told the commission her vision was to have a “safe and legal space for cannabis consumption and education,” and also described a bit of the business plan, including that the lounge would be staffed by a “budtender” who would be trained to recognize signs of impairment in patrons.
Broekema also addressed some of the concerns commissioners had from their previous meeting, mainly on marijuana impairment, driving and enforcement. She said while there is not a device that police can use to measure impairment, there were field sobriety tests that could be used to determine impairment.
“The unknown always raises concern, and there’s only two operating consumption lounges in Michigan,” Broekema said. “People are nervous and wonder why, and the reason for this is because lounges are not extremely profitable; you can’t sell marijuana in there and you’re only selling a smoking pass, which makes it unappealing to investors. I simply would like to open a consumption lounge for the social, safety and education aspects it would provide the community.”
During commissioner discussion, Dane, who has been a staunch opponent against marijuana in the city, said in talking with members of the community, those she talked to said they were heavily against a consumption lounge, especially in the downtown area.
“We have done so much to build our downtown and try to make it family-oriented, and this isn’t what we want children to be exposed to,” Dane said. “This is a historic town, and marijuana is not historic. It’s not a part of our vision. Not one person that called me, emailed me or spoke to me at the store was in favor of it. Not one.”
Two of the common threads in the dissent against the ordinance amendment were the timing aspect of when it was presented, in the early years of legal marijuana in the state, and what kind of an effect having consumption lounges around would have on children. Many commissioners recommended that the city wait until state laws were in place regarding such consumption lounges before allowing them to be able to apply for a permit via the ordinance.
“I believe, from all the people that I’ve talked to and my responsibility here, would be that we wait and educate and definitely relocate to protect our younger people,” McNary said. “[The children] get their education from us, do as I say not as I do. We have to do better for our young people.”
Abel asked whether or not the city would receive tax revenue from such a business, with Planning Commission Liaison John Beebe responding that they wouldn’t. Later, Abel said consumption lounges were an issue that “divides the city almost equally in half.”
Allen said while he was “pro-weed,” he said the city doesn’t need a consumption lounge in the city.
“I think you have a great idea, and some perception of it. I think unfortunately, the practicum of it would be a little hindering to the atmosphere we want downtown,” Allen said. “I think HarmonyFest and the new Pride Fest, all these things, people walking downtown maybe have to walk over to avoid this place. I’m pro-weed, but if we wait a little longer – I like being a trailblazer as far as politics go, but I think we need to slow down.”
Broekema addressed the issue of the affect such a shop would have on children, saying having a consumption lounge in town wouldn’t “do anything negative” for children, and that parents who smoke marijuana wouldn’t do it in front of their kids if such a lounge was available.
“A lot of people would sit out in their cars and smoke, which is illegal; if you have your keys in your car, you can’t smoke in your car. It gives people a place to go,” Broekema said. “I understand the concern of it, but I have to meet all the state requirements along with the city requirements before I can even proceed.”
On the opposite side of the issue, Brown said the responsibility on bartenders to make sure people don’t have too much to drink at bars compares to the responsibility budtenders at consumption lounges would have to make sure people do not smoke too much at consumption lounges. He added the city could put language in the ordinance to make sure the responsibility to make sure people don’t over-indulge at consumption lounges was on the owners. Later, in response to a comment McNary made that marijuana was a “gateway drug,” Brown refuted it, citing a study that found alcohol was more of a gateway drug than marijuana was.
“The term ‘gateway drug’ has been used for marijuana for years and years and years, and it’s not accurate,” Brown said. “I don’t think that should bear any weight on anybody’s decision.”
Lowry said he could’ve gone either way on the issue, noting he treats weed the same as alcohol, and that federal health regulators have suggested the federal government reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug. He said states are at the “vanguard” of marijuana issues and that most initiatives to legalize marijuana have been done via referendum and not legislation. He admitted there isn’t a definitive agreed-upon test for determining impairment, and that while science will eventually “catch up,” responsibility is on budtenders for making sure people don’t over-indulge.
In all, he described himself as a “risk-taker” when it comes to marijuana.
“I’m a risk taker, I can live with a higher level of risk than many people I know, and you have to be if you’re going against Amazon selling books,” Lowry said. “That’s why I voted for weed and we opted in. The state referendum passed three-to-one; people want weed legalized in Michigan. We as a city had the opportunity to opt in or out of that process, and we opted in. And again, I can live with a certain level of risk knowing that our state is ahead of the federal government.”
Lowry then noted that if an ordinance amendment were to be approved, he would want a sunset after one year as well as darkened windows and minimal signage for such a lounge.
Other commissioners had questions regarding the legality of issues surrounding consumption lounges, some regarding the legality of smoking marijuana indoors in such an establishment, given the state law banning indoor smoking in “public places.” Allen finished off discussion by encouraging Broekema to try again at a later date.
“I’m pro-business, and I think all we’re saying, Ms. Daly, is we need a little more information and a little more time, and I think if you came back to us, it’d be a different outcome,” Allen said. “But, not right now.”
In other business…
- Commissioners approved an agreement to partner with County Clerk Lindsay Oswald to provide early voting for the city beginning in 2024.
- Commissioners approved placing on file for 30 days the transfer of 918 S. Lincoln Ave. and 614 Walnut St. to the Three Rivers Housing Development Corporation.
- Commissioners approved a $130,389.70 change order for pump station improvements at the Wastewater Treatment Plant, most of the total being the continuation of gravity sewer replacement from the force main break event in July.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or email@example.com.