Pot sales in village have some residents fuming.

September 26, 2021

Pot sales in village have some residents fuming.

By Alllison Scarbrough, Editor.

PENTWATER — The Pentwater Village Council’s approval of recreational marijuana dispensaries has ignited a controversy in the quaint tourist village.

“The administrative body must first approve the act of allowing the sale of recreational marijuana,” said Village Manager Chris Brown. “The legislative body, which is the council, opted in to approve the licensing procedure.”

The council voted in July with a 5-1 vote to approve marijuana dispensaries in the village.

A group of opponents has placed signs on their property that say, “Pentwater, not Potwater.” Year-round resident Dan Hoekstra, Sr., who is leading the opposition effort, said he thinks the council should rescind its decision. Hoekstra previously served on the village council for five years; was ordinance chairman for two years; and vice chair of the planning commission for two years.

“This is a loaded grenade,” he said. “Somebody already pulled the pin and now it’s exploding after the fact.”

Pentwater Police Chief Laude Hartrum says the police force will need to be increased in order to patrol the marijuana businesses.

The majority — just over 50 percent of Pentwater voters — voted to legalize recreational mariujuana when the issue was on the state ballot back in 2018, the village manager noted.

Village officials have examined Michigan communities that have recreational marijuana dispensaries. “Not one community has said they have negative impacts. Not one police department has said they have negative impacts. They have looked at the impacts, and they are great economic partners in their communities. They have garnered a lot of tax dollars back to the municipality. They have been very lucrative for the communities themselves.”

The tax revenue and licensing fees generate money for the community that pays for parks and improvements, said Brown. No other industry, such as alcohol and tobacco sales, generate income for municipalities other than gas taxes that pay for road improvements, he added.

Pentwater stands to receive $5,000 per for every license annually and $28,000 in taxes annually per establishment — based on last year’s tax data. 

“It’s a stigma,” said Brown. “I think it’s biased and prejudiced the way people are looking at it today — because it is the law.”

Opponents, who are the “Concerned Citizens of Pentwater,” say the council rushed into the decision and did it secretly. “It was done in the dark of night,” said Hoekstra. His opposition group is consulting with an attorney in the hopes of initiating a petition to get the issue on the ballot for the voters to decide. “What I would really like to see is bring it to a vote in the village.”

The neighboring township of Weare has the issue on the Nov. 2 ballot.

“The process we believe wasn’t followed,” said Hoekstra. “They should have had a hearing before the council voted to get an idea of what the people want.” He said the council is not properly running its meetings. “We have a loosey goosey government here.”

“That is not the case,” said Brown. “It was all done in open committees and open meetings. We have followed every step to the letter of the law contrary to popular belief.”

Hoekstra does not agree with allowing marijuana in the business district. He thinks the establishments should be situated outside the village limits. “If you want to put it in Weare Township — no problem, you wouldn’t see a sign in the village.”

As of late last week, there were 50 of the “Potwater” opposition signs displayed in the village, said Hoekstra. “And there are more coming.” The group invested $1,000 in the production of the signs, which are available for folks to place in their yards for free.

“We’re not trying to be divisive in any way — we just want our opinion heard.”

Hoekstra said he doesn’t believe that dispensaries will increase business at other shops in the winter as village officials are claiming. “People coming in to buy pot are probably not going to have their wife buy a sweater at somebody’s store.

“We are a family-friendly town,” said Hoekstra. “I have a 10-year-old grandson and we let him ride his bike to the other side of town to go down to the beach. Will I be able to do that with the increased traffic and with the different types of folks coming in to buy pot? — and yes I know they’re all different ages, financial structures, everything.”

Hoekstra has concerns about parking. Most establishments offer delivery to customers’ cars, and he said there are not adequate parking lots to provide that service.

Having the dispensaries in the village limits is safer than them being situated in remote areas, said Brown, much like banks. “A bank in a remote area would be a higher target for crime. The same with these businesses — you don’t put them out in the boondocks by themselves.”

Because Pentwater has its own village police department, locating the establishments in the village limits is a safer option than locating them in the outlying townships that do not have their own police agencies, Brown added.

Now that the council approved dispensaries in the village, it is in the planning commission’s hands to decide where the establishments will be located. 

There have been “three or four inquiries” of businesses looking to locate in Pentwater, but a specific proposal has not yet been received, said Brown. 

The Pentwater Village Council nixed the sale of medical marijuana, which became legal in 2008. “It was not a good act, and that is why we opted out of it. Recreational is a whole other ball of wax. It’s taxed and it’s regulated.”

Brown said officials from other communities have described the recreational marijuana business people as valuable assets. “They are great citizens to the community; they spend a lot of money on their buildings; and they’re very philanthropic.” He said the benefits have been “abundant” for the communities.

By being a community “on the leading edge” of marijuana sales, Pentwater is expected to attract top-notch businesses in the industry, he said. “So, if we’re the last community to opt in to this, we’re not going to get the cream of the crop operators. We will attract the best of the operators.

“When something is legal like this today, the absence of not having the supply to meet the demand, it just increases bootlegging and crime,” said Brown.

The goal of allowing the dispensaries in town is to make Pentwater more of a year-round destination unlike the summer tourist community that it currently is. “If we can get that other traffic the other six or seven months out of the year when everybody is closed up, our downtown will be year-round now. It was an economic decision.”

Pentwater Police Chief Laude Hartrum anticipates increasing police department staff due to the pot establishments.

“As a veteran of the war on drugs for the last 30 years, do I personally agree with it? No,” said Chief Hartrum. However, the council has spoken, and Hartrum honors its decision. “The village council makes the decisions, and it is the role of the police to enforce the laws they pass.”

The chief noted the newness of the situation creates many unknowns. “If you asked me, ‘Do you think marijuana would ever be legal?’ I would say you’re crazy.”

It was challenging for law enforcement when marijuana became legal, because police officers did not know what to expect, he said. He has not observed a notable increase in crime since it became legal. Driving issues have not been “insurmountable,” and technology being developed to test drivers for operating under the influence of pot is similar to testing for drivers operating under the influence of alcohol.

The chief sees economic potential with the new law. “Is there merit that it’s beneficial legally? Probably yes. It could be very profitable.”

“Police departments are largely graded by the communities they serve and how well those communities feel they’re being served,” said Hartrum. 

“I have not seen any reports of retail marjuana establishments causing more street crime,” said the chief. “They are cash businesses, and cash businesses that operate that way are inherently risky and subject to certain crimes. It is certainly going to require a level of security maybe greater than what is in place for Pentwater. There is going to be a level of law enforcement greater than what it is. It’s going to cause a dramatic increase in the Pentwater Police Department.’

The department currently includes two full-time officers and six part-time officers, and he expects increasing manpower due to the dispensaries.

“When you have businesses that have a huge threat potential, that is for sure going to cause us to reevaluate how we do our patrolling,” said the chief. 

Staffing doubles during the busy summer months, and having the dispensaries in town will require more officers year round, he said.

“We’re extremely busy in the summer time. If the marijuana stores come in and create that kind of traffic, that’s going to affect our staffing in the winter time. As we grow into more of a 12-month population, then we’re absolutely going to have to see a bigger police department.

“The reality is marijuana is legal; the reality is those shops have to go some place. There is a lot of emotion right now, but at the end of the day, the system will work itself out.”

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