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Medical marijuana growth in Tuscola County has officials, entrepreneurs seeing green

Steve Erickson, executive director, Tuscola County Economic Development Corp.
Steve Erickson, executive director, Tuscola County Economic Development Corp.

The number of medical marijuana cards in Tuscola County has nearly doubled in one year, and local officials, property owners, and entrepreneurs are exploring ways to capitalize on the area market and newly regulated industry.
Example?
Steve Erickson, executive director, Tuscola County Economic Development Corp. (TCEDC), confirmed Tuesday that an individual has twice offered to make a donation to the TCEDC in exchange for its business planning assistance.
“(The individual) wants to open a couple of medical marijuana outlets, one of them being here in Caro,” Erickson said.
Concurrently, local building owners such as Scott Romain – who had planned to turn a former flea market in downtown Caro into a $1.2 million rum microdistillery before plans fell through – say they are more than happy to support entrepreneurs who want to buy or lease their vacant properties for legal medical marijuana operations.
Last week, Vassar City Council began discussing the topic, including the potential positive economic impact – just a few days before the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners held a lengthy discussion at its regular meeting about finding ways to generate revenue and reduce dependency on tax revenue from wind turbines.
And it’s all happening as the number of medical marijuana cards in Tuscola County increased from 682 in October 2015 to 1,335 as of yesterday, according to the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Department.
“You’ve got the makings of a whole new industry that will probably be turned down by a lot of communities throughout the state,” said Brian Chapman, city manager, Vassar. “It’s a good opportunity for someone who is trying to rebuild their lost industry that was taken out through the recession or maybe they just closed up doors.
“In the long term…I think a lot of communities will be playing catch-up on a lot of this stuff,” Chapman said.
Caro Interim City Manager Karen Snider said that as of press time, there weren’t any plans for Caro City Council to take up the issue of medical marijuana.
Mike Hoagland, controller, Tuscola County, said the subject wasn’t on the radar of the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners, either, and that he “hadn’t studied the issue enough” to even comment.
Similar sentiments were echoed when Erickson told the TCEDC board Tuesday about the entrepreneur who had approached the organization, which is a “special unit” of the county.
“Before we make any decisions on any level, I would like to have more information because referring back to something that happened formerly in this town (Caro), let’s make sure we have all of our facts before we move forward with anything,” said Rose Putnam, a member of the TCEDC board.
The TCEDC is asking its attorney to review the matter before proceeding.
So far, local discussions seem focused on two issues: the potential revenue it could create in a county where growth is essentially flat versus what some have called outdated, preconceived notions about the drug and confusion over laws.
Medically speaking, research indicates marijuana effective in a wide range of clinical applications, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, hepatitis C, nail patella, nausea, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, and chronic pain.
From a legal perspective, more than 60 percent of Michigan voters approved the Michigan Marihuana Act on Nov. 4, 2008.
Per that act, those with medical marijuana cards can have only 2.5 ounces of marijuana in their possession that is either grown by them or provided by a so-called “caregiver.” The state provides comprehensive background on the most up-to-date rules and regulations at http://1.usa.gov/1NUfAsA
However, the state law did not account for distribution and dispensaries – or local economic impact.
That changed in September, when Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a series of bills that go into effect in late 2017 and essentially legalize and regulate medical marijuana edibles and dispensaries.
Specifically, the bills were:
• House Bill 4209, now Public Act 281, establishing the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act to license and regulate growth, processing, transport and provisioning of medical marijuana.
• House Bill 4210, now Public Act 282, amends the voter-initiated Michigan Medical Marihuana Act of 2008 to allow for the manufacture and use (by qualified patients) of marijuana-infused products.
• House Bill 4827, now Public Act 283, creates the Marihuana Tracking Act that includes a seed-to-sale tracking system to track all medical marijuana.
In short, the new law effectively creates the framework for a medical marijuana industry by regulating the growth, processing, transport, sales and taxation of the drug.
Individual communities can assess annual license fees of up to $5,000 per facility, and also receive a share of the new 3 percent state sales tax imposed on the entities’ gross retail receipts.
According to a Michigan Townships Association report on the new law, the five entities allowed under the new law may be “quite profitable.” The five entities are: growers, processors, provisioning centers, secured transporters, and safety compliance.
“If you have a big enough area, you get maybe four or five growers, couple processors, provisioning center, secure transportation between those, and you get a safety compliance center in there to work with those provisions, you’ve got a lot of money coming in,” Chapman said, adding that he is not necessarily advocating that for Vassar.
The Michigan Townships Association report concludes that “in some communities medical marijuana facilities will utilize commercial properties that are currently vacant or even off the tax roll due to foreclosure.”
Gary Wolfram, a Hillsdale College economist, has been quoted as saying a “conservative estimate” is that the state will collect $63 million annually in fees and taxes and generate about 10,000 jobs.
Two important factors to note, said Tuscola County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Reene, is that the changes go into effect a year from now, and the businesses can only operate where local officials have enacted an ordinance.
“Local municipalities are going to have control,” Reene said, adding that confusion has been caused by some communities passing ordinances “to block this being done, or that being done.”
“The default is it’s not legal unless your particular municipality passes an ordinance saying ‘This business can be here,’” Reene said. “The stop sign is up unless they make that decision.”
An ordinance can contain such restrictions as specific locations and size, among others, Reene said.
“If the community decides that’s what they want, then they can have it,” Reene said.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at andrew@tcadvertiser.com

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