2018-10-11 / Front Page

Boards don’t like marijuana proposal

by Eric Carlson
of the Enterprise staff

The entire board of the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department and at least half of the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners hope you’ll vote “no” Nov. 6 on a proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Michigan.

In contrast, recent statewide polls indicate that voter support for the ballot initiative is, well, high. The measure is expected to pass with about 62 percent of the vote statewide.

No polling has focused exclusively on Leelanau County. However, on Tuesday night at the Statutory Annual Meeting of the County Board half of commissioners present were opposed to the referendum. Those who voted “no” on the resolution to oppose the referendum said they were reluctant to weigh in on the issue.

District No. 4 Commissioner Ty Wessell introduced a “late agenda item” on the topic, providing copies of a five-page document titled “Public Health Concerns Related to the Availability and Use of Marijuana.” The document had been produced recently by the Leelanau County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, formed earlier this year primarily in response to the nationwide opiate epidemic.

Wessell noted that at its Sept. 27 meeting the Health Department Board voted unanimously to declare that it “opposes the ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use due to public health threats.”

District No. 7 Commissioner Melinda Lautner, who chairs the Health Department Board, said department staff had checked to ensure there were no legal impediments to the board taking a position on the issue. She added that “homelessness, the loss of property values, the loss of our youth” can all be attributed to marijuana use.

County administrator Chet Janik said it was permissible for a body such as the County Board to take a position on a ballot initiative if it does not expend taxpayer money on a promotional campaign. He added that although the county Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition produced an informational packet about marijuana, it did not vote to take a position on the statewide ballot initiative.

Coincidentally, the board voted 7-0 Tuesday night on a budget that will support the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition with a $30,000 appropriation in 2019. County officials have expressed hope and confidence that the task force will win federal grant funding totaling about $125,000 per year for the next five years to support new government programs focused on preventing substance abuse in Leelanau County.

“We shouldn’t be afraid to say that this (the potential legalization of recreational marijuana) is a mistake and we shouldn’t let this happen,” said District No. 3 Commissioner and County Board Chairman Will Bunek. “I’m totally in favor of saying we oppose the ballot proposal.”

However, District No. 1 Commissioner Tony Ansorge said he was struggling with the idea that a government body such as the County Board should be weighing-in on an initiative that is being put before the entire voting public for a decision.

District No. 6 Commissioner Casey Noonan said he, too, was struggling with the same issue even though his personal opinion is that recreational marijuana should not be legalized. He said he opposed the County Board taking a position on the issue.

However, Noonan also serves on the Health Department Board along with Lautner. He and Lautner voted with the rest of that board last month to oppose the marijuana initiative.

Also serving on the Health Department board is Glen Arbor Township resident Carolyn “Peachy” Rentenbach, a former Chairman of the County Board who was unseated by Noonan in 2016.

A Democrat, Rentenbach is challenging Republican Noonan on Nov. 6 to regain her seat as a county commissioner. Rentenbach and Noonan both voted “yes” on the Health Department’s motion in opposition of the marijuana initiative.

District No. 5 Commissioner Patricia Soutas-Little said she agreed with Ansorge and Noonan that a vote of the County Board on the issue was not appropriate. That put her at odds with the County Board’s only other Democrat, Wessell.

The County Board’s vote on a motion to oppose the initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use and possession in Michigan failed in a 3-3 tie. District No. 2 Commissioner Debra Ruston was absent from this week’s County Board meeting due to an unexpected family obligation.

Rushton serves as chair of the Leelanau County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition and was a driving force behind its formation.

Lautner said she expected that had Rushton been present Tuesday evening the motion for the County Board to oppose next month’s marijuana initiative would have carried in a 4-3 vote.

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