A proposal to draft an ordinance permitting marijuana dispensaries in Watson Township may be in trouble.
The Township Board Thursday evening received more public input in opposition to crafting local rules to permit the growing, processing and delivery of medical marijuana, as permitted by a new state law that went into effect in December. John Caras, a Watson Township resident, and Scott Hershberger, have asked for local officials to develop the ordinance, and the Planning Commission was directed to do so early this year.
But after hearing and reading more public opposition, Township Supervisor Kevin Travis, regarded as a supporter of medical marijuana dispensaries, told Caras, “Sorry, John, but I think we should back away from this.”
Board members read a couple of e-mails and told of a phone message opposing medical marijuana.
Mike Pavlak, in an e-mail, insisted there is “no study that proves (medical marijuana’s) benefits… A system already is in place for medical use.”
He was referring to a ballot referendum approved statewide in 2008 by 63% of the voters, in which licensed growers and caregivers can provide medical marijuana to approved patients.
Sue Zeinstra, who with husband Rod, a former Township Board member, was vocal last month in a public hearing before a packed house, wrote, “We remain strongly against this for Watson Township.”
Christine Fontaine maintained that most township residents are against developing an ordinance and “this is not agriculture, it’s a drug… I’m seriously thinking about moving (if the state-wide legalization proposal in November for recreational marijuana is approved).”
Her husband, Curtis Fontaine, said there is plenty of evidence that permitting dispensaries is opposed by Watson Township residents, saying, “You have to consider the (wishes of) township residents.”
Bob and Brenda Sikkema appeared at the meeting and Brenda told board members, “I have four children, and the thought of 1500 marijuana plants next door is distressing.”
Bob Sikkema said he is a teacher in the Allegan school system and has personally seen “the public devastation” as a result of the substance.
Caras told the board he believed the well attended public hearing last month showed a fairly even split between supporters and detractors, and he suggested perhaps those opposed are more motivated to be vocal about the issue.
He said he and Hershberger both are military veterans who want to provide medical marijuana to other veterans in the area with their small business, Symponia Farms, where they now raise fish.
Caras said surveys have shown that close to 70 percent of American adults now support legalization of medical marijuana.
Travis, though appearing to be changing his position, still insisted Attorney General Jeff Sessions can’t do anything about medical marijuana use and provisions if the state law id followed.
Another latecomer to the meeting said he opposed the idea because it will take away from Watson’s rural, agricultural atmosphere.
Trustee Chuck Andrysiak agreed, saying, “I don’t want us to become a Plainwell or an Otsego. Let’s keep our dirt roads. To me, cities are a cancer.”
Hershberger said he and Caras asked the township to draft a proposed ordinance and start the conversation. He has noted that the new dispensary law permits local government units to better regulate where and how medical marijuana is provided.
Travis finally commented, “I’ve gotten to the point where I’m sick of having meetings about marijuana. If we were voting on this now, I’d be a ‘no’.”
Andrysiak, a member of the Planning Commission, suggested clear direction very soon is needed because the commission could take up its ordinance drafting task as early as March.
“Maybe we should decide before March (whether to continue),” Andrysiak said. “Let’s not waste the Planning Commission’s time and money. We need to decide whether we’re going to proceed or not.”