ESCANABA — After hearing from both supporters and opponents of legalized marijuana, the Escanaba City Council voted Thursday to extend the city’s prohibition on retail marijuana establishments until at least Sept. 16, of 2022.

The ordinance approved Thursday in a split vote of the council replaces an ordinance banning the sale of the drug, which was legalized by Michigan voters in 2018. That ordinance was set to expire Sept. 19 of this year.

“If you vote to extend the ban, you will not only be going against the will of the voters, more importantly, you will be supporting our city’s thriving black market, which does not test for product safety and does not care if you’re 21 of not,” said resident Robert LaBelle prior to the council’s vote. “Our children are going to be growing up with cannabis whether we like it or not. I, for one, would like to limit their access to it similar to alcohol, by shutting down the black market. The only way to make this happen is to have government regulate establishments.”

Others disagreed that allowing the sale of recreational marijuana would make Escanaba a safer community.

“I would also like council to picture folks coming to Escanaba to buy drugs and then partying at Ludington beach, in our park and on Aronson Island. Please consider the burden this would add to our police force,” said resident Beth Sviland.

William Gasman, who has taken up the fight against recreational sales by consistently speaking out against the drug at council meetings since marijuana was legalized statewide, recognized the appeal of additional funding for the city through state reimbursement programs of marijuana tax. However, he didn’t believe the benefits outweighed the potential for damage to the community.

“It all looks very attractive at the beginning — the big tax revenues, the generation of jobs, the tourism — but … once reality hits with time, it all turns out to be somewhat of a dream, or should we say, ‘a nightmare,’” he said.

Council Member Tyler DuBord, who had previously argued the two-year extension of the moratorium on marijuana was too long, was the only council member to vote against the new ordinance.

“The people have already voted for the state of Michigan to legalize recreational marijuana. They’ve already voted. it already passed. It’s up to now the municipalities to decide to implement dispensaries within the community. By doing so we are allowing a clean, regulated marijuana dispensary, which is outside the black market, which allows people to be confident in buying their products at a dispensary, which is regulated and inspected and licensed,” said DuBord, who suggested the city look at dispensaries in Lower Michigan rather than trying to apply the successes and failures of Colorado — the first state to legalize the drug recreationally — to Escanaba.

While he voted in favor of the ordinance, Council Member Ralph Blasier was quick to point out the issue of whether or not to allow recreational marijuana sales could always be taken up by residents.

“The voters can take control of this. … People who love marijuana can get a petition to approve marijuana on the ballot that would override anything that we do here, and people who hate marijuana can do the same thing to oppose marijuana and get that on the ballot,” he said.

In other business, the council voted to renew a lease agreement between the city and the Community Action Agency for senior center activities at the Catherine Bonifas Civic Center with a $50 per year increase in utility costs.

The council also voted to counter an offer by Bay Bank for a city-owned parcel near the Civic Center that would add space for the construction of a new bank at the former site of Elmer’s Restaurant. The decision to counter the bank’s offer of $40,000 with a request for $45,000 passed in a 3-2 vote, with Blasier and Mayor Marc Tall dissenting.

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