Proposed marijuana ordinance prompts public response

Manistee City Council held a meeting on Tuesday, which featured several agenda items. (Ashlyn Korienek/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — Council chambers were packed with concerned residents this week, all of whom spoke against one agenda item during Tuesday’s Manistee City Council meeting.

A proposed ordinance would have made the consumption of marijuana in a public place a misdemeanor, within the City of Manistee.

After hearing the public’s plea and discussing some concerns, council members voted to approve only one part of the ordinance.

“I make a motion that we adopt the ordinance 19-05 Chapter 662, the section B.1. only,” stated council member Mick Szymanski. “And that we withdrawal the section B.15., dealing with marijuana.”

SHIFTING DIRECTIONS

A second reading of ordinance 19-05 amending Chapter 662 Peace Disturbances was held on Tuesday. There were two proposed modifications.

Council unanimously approved changes to section “662.01 B.1.,” which provides that being intoxicated in a public place, standing alone, is not a violation. An individual must also act in a way that endangers a person’s safety, property or causes a public disturbance.

This change conforms to the requirements of Michigan law.

Council denied an added section “662.01 B.15.,” providing that consumption of marijuana in a public place, other than an area identified by a private property owner, is prohibited.

The Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act allows municipalities to authorize consumption in a public place.

The act, however, is silent as to which penalty is imposed for violators. In Manistee, violators would have faced a misdemeanor — as opposed to a civil infraction.

George Saylor, city attorney, gave council his professional opinion on the ordinance.

“We have been working on and, in fact, have a draft of our recreational marijuana ordinance,” Saylor said. “We can incorporate a restriction against consumption in a public place, consistent with the state law.

“I think it would make sense at this time to approve the ordinance just with the public intoxication amendment, with the removal of the recreational marijuana portion.”

SPEAKING OUT

A group of citizens, who were all opposed to the proposed ordinance, shared their thoughts on Tuesday, prior to the vote.

Mike Herbert, of Manistee, spoke in opposition to the proposed penalty, which he said continues to stigmatize those who use marijuana.

He also referenced council’s recent decision to temporarily opt out of provisions of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act, which has a sunset date of July 1.

“Those guiding city council have pushed further forward in their effort,” he said, “by putting before council an ordinance intended to continue to persecute, prosecute and criminalize the public use of marijuana, by making public use prosecutable as a misdemeanor rather than a civil infraction.

“Thereby continuing to stigmatize users with a conviction… if you feel compelled to fall in-line with the state, make it a civil infraction punishable by a fine only not a criminal record…”

Another speaker, Sean Herbert, shared his experience with medical marijuana, which made a difference in dealing with a severe injury.

“About 10 years ago I was in a pretty bad accident, shattered my entire left ankle, two spiral fractures in my tibia and fibula,” he said. “In 19 years of his 22-year practice, (the surgeon) told me he hasn’t seen a break that bad. He told me I might not be able to walk without a limp.

“I did very well in my therapy… I have used medical marijuana since that time to do what I do through out my day.”

Sean asked council members to consider who would be impacted by the ordinance.

“I know first hand the damage that these types of charges have,” he said. “I would urge every single one of you to think about what you are really voting for here.”

Another local resident, Danielle Simo, shared an emotional story about her past experience with Michigan’s marijuana laws.

“In 2016 my son was diagnosed with autism, so I packed my entire life into a car and I came back here,” Simo said. “In the car, underneath the back seat, was unpacked paraphernalia… I was pulled over for a routine stop.

“My fiance was with me in the vehicle so he could take the charges,” she continued. “That’s lucky because if it was not for him taking those charges, I would not be allowed to graduate from West Shore Community College.

“It really saddens me that after all of this time you would rather see us as criminals than as people.”

After the vote, Szymanski commended those who spoke before council.

“I just wanted to make a quick comment on the people who commented on the ordinance for marijuana,” he said. “I thought your arguments were very compelling.”

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Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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