Marijuana dispensaries debate front and center in Stevensville

The vote on the measure is Tuesday, May 2.
Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 7:48 PM EDT
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STEVENSVILLE, Mich. (WNDU) - Marijuana dispensaries could soon come to Stevensville, yet, some residents fear it isn’t in the village’s best interest, and because of community interest in this matter, this initiative was added to the upcoming ballot.

The village government says bringing dispensaries to Stevensville could bring in over $100,000 annually to help fix local roads. Still, some residents believe there are alternative measures that better suit their community.

In November 2022, the village passed an ordinance permitting up to two marijuana dispensaries to operate in the town. Due to zoning laws, these retailers could only operate on the Red Arrow Highway, which runs parallel to I-94.

“We wanted to keep the dispensaries outside of the downtown location,” says Kacey Dominguez, Village Manager for Stevensville. “We have a church and a school downtown. We also looked at parking issues that are common with dispensaries; having it out on Red Arrow would alleviate a lot of those concerns. We also put in some buffering rules that they have to be a certain distance between or from churches and schools, so the only area that really worked was out on Red Arrow.”

But according to the ballot question committee Friends of Stevensville, they don’t care where the dispensaries go, just as long as they aren’t in the village.

“There are 17 dispensaries in a 30-mile radius,” says Stacy Berndt, a committee member with Friends of Stevensville. “You can go to neighboring towns and find several shops there. Our group doesn’t feel like retail marijuana shops are the right fit for our community. We’re a wholesome, family-friendly community, and we don’t feel that this is the image that we want to have. And we don’t think it will bring the revenues they think it will.”

Berndt says that the group isn’t anti-marijuana and that adults who smoke should be free to make their own decisions.-

“It is not the goal of our group to try to appeal recreational marijuana,” Berndt said. “The goal of our group is to keep retail recreational shops out of our village.

While the committee is also concerned about the potential impact on younger generations, as well as the smell of cannabis associated with dispensaries, a primary concern is funding for roads.

According to our reporting partners at the Herold Palladium, “In July, Abonmarche reported to village trustees that more than 65 percent of the village’s roads were rated as fair or poor, according to a PASER street evaluation.”

After a recent assessment, the village says it will need $5 million for road repairs over the next ten years.

If the ordinance is repealed, village leaders say they will have to find alternative funding and reduce costs to the village.

“The state just opened up funding for some local roads, which really do not have a lot of access to outside funds, so we’re applying for at least three roads to be funded through this state grant,” Dominguez said. “So, we do utilize the grants as they come up. I think for the last eight years, we’ve proposed two major roads, and we take advantage of any funding for local roads that come out.”

However, in emails shared with 16 News Now, village officials on January 30 said that they became aware of the MDOT Category B grants too late to make the deadline for 2023 but are planning on applying for it next year.

The email stated, “Yes, I became aware of this grant too late to make the deadline for 2023. But we will definitely apply for it next year and as long as the funds are available.”

An email from MDOT on February 2 states, “A review of our records does not show that Stevensville applied for the Category B program during the last five-year program (approved in 2018, for funding in FY 2019-2023).”

“I think the village was pretty quick to come to this as a solution, and I think there are other, better alternatives,” Berndt said. “And it’s not to say anything negative about anybody that uses or chooses to use marijuana. There are a lot of people that find a lot of benefits from it, and we’re not about trying to end recreational marijuana. We just don’t want the stores in our town.”

While the group and the village don’t see eye to eye on this issue, both parties say they are committed to building a better future and leaving a lasting legacy.

“And we would just encourage the council first to try to find some other businesses and family-friendly businesses,” Berndt said. “Even though the shops are on Red Arrow Highway, those businesses and residents along there are still part of our village.”

Village officials say they are already seeking alternative options to bring businesses into town.

“We as a village were certified in redevelopment-ready status, which is a state program that says we’re ready for communities and businesses to come and start their businesses here,” Dominguez said. “That was announced last month. We plan to survey the residents, just asking what kind of businesses and what aspects of Stevensville we want to market to those businesses to attract them here.”

Dominguez says this will be a multi-year project to attract new businesses to Stevensville.

“So, next year or two or three, there’s going to be a big effort to really fill some of our vacant lots, some of our vacant storefronts,” Dominguez said. “We are asking for proposals from different consultants right now, I have one on my desk that will facilitate this process, so we’ll get feedback from residents on what are the aspects that you want to market, whether being near the beach, good schools, a lot of things that are marketable about the village, but getting that feedback first so we know what residents think we should market about the village, but that process is starting. So, we want involvement in that, and the next few months, we’ll be really ironing out those details.”

A vote “yes” would mean that residents are opposed to bringing dispensaries to Stevensville, repealing the November ordinance, and a vote “no” would favor bringing dispensaries to the village.

“We have a few other options if this doesn’t pass, but the priority of this being our first option was it (road costs) wouldn’t be put onto the residents, but it would be generating through the sales of the dispensaries,” Dominguez said.

The vote is set for next Tuesday, May 2.

The Friends of Stevensville committee has its complete list of concerns on its website.

Stevensville has a population of just over 1,100 people.