Marijuana Resolution Fate Hazy After Divide Among County Commissioners

Photo Credit: Detroit Free Press

A resolution to oppose a statewide vote on recreational marijuana went up in smoke Monday, at least temporarily, as Livingston County commissioners split their vote.

During a meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee, commissioners Bob Bezotte and Bill Green voted in favor of a resolution opposing the ballot proposal, while Gary Childs and Dennis Dolan voted against the resolution. Statewide legalization of recreational marijuana will be on the November ballot.

“It’s up to the citizens to make a decision,” Childs said. “This one is on them, let’s leave it up to the citizens of the state of Michigan.”

Bezotte, a former county sheriff, said he felt it was the commission’s duty to “take the lead” on the issue and was joined in his support of the resolution by Green.

The split vote angered Commissioner Dave Domas, who was in the audience and spoke during public comment of a commissioner’s meeting recently at which six Pinckney High School students relayed the negative impact marijuana use had on their lives. They were joined by a representative from Catholic Social Services, who provided the sample resolution other counties, including Allegan, Oceana and Muskegon, have used to oppose recreational marijuana use.

“Those youngsters had the courage to stand up and tell you why they were here, they were victims of recreational marijuana and how it affected their lives and didn’t want their bad experience to affect anyone else,” Domas said. “Anyone who votes against this (resolution), doesn’t belong on the board. We’ll visit this again.”

He admonished anyone who suggested that recreational marijuana use was “none of our business” to go to Colorado, where “you can’t go a mile from the airport without being deluged with propaganda about marijuana.”

Recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, as well as Washington state, in 2012.

The resolution considered by the commission cited University of Colorado, Denver reports “that marijuana-impaired driver related fatalities have risen 114% in Colorado since that State legalized the use of marijuana.”

A National Institute on Drug Abuse report is also cited in the resolution stating, “one in six teens that use marijuana become addicted to its use.”

Unsourced assertions in the resolution included:

“There is significant evidence demonstrating that non-medical or recreational use of marijuana has a profoundly negative impact on our youth, particularly teenagers” and “increased consumption of marijuana would likely lead to higher public health and financial costs for society. Addictive substances like alcohol and tobacco already result in much higher social costs than the revenue they generate. The cost to society of alcohol alone is estimated to be more than 15 times the revenue gained by their taxation.”

Six Democratic candidates who are running for county commissioner seats this fall sent a letter to the commission stating their opposition to the resolution, saying it “grossly misrepresents the risks and benefits of marijuana” and data used from Colorado was “cherry-picked to distort the state’s experience.”

Alex Hansen, commissioner candidate for District 5, said the county should not be wasting time and resources on a resolution and the voters will decide the issue.

He cited a recent study that 61% of Michigan voters currently favor legalization of recreational marijuana.

“The tax revenue (from state-regulated recreational marijuana) could fix roads and take care of schools and curb the opioid addiction rate that we have,” he said. “I would have to say the positives outweigh the concerns, when you look at the decrease in incarcerations and citations.”

Dolan said he is not for or against the entire recreational marijuana use proposal and it is something he plans to look at further. His objection to the resolution is, he said, driven by the conviction that voters should decide for themselves.

“This is not North Korea, this is Livingston County and I wouldn’t want someone telling me what I should or should not do,” he said.