By Jordan Genso
The end result of a roughly five-hour-long special meeting on Wednesday night for Brighton’s city council was a 6-1 vote to reaffirm their opt-out status regarding marijuana establishments.
The city council first voted to opt-out of allowing any marijuana businesses shortly after a 2018 statewide ballot proposal legalized the recreational use and industry. That position received renewed interest in Brighton after a 2020 ballot measure in the village of Pinckney successfully overruled that municipality’s opt-out status, with a majority of Brighton’s council members at the time then indicating an openness to allowing for marijuana businesses so that it would be on the city’s terms and not dictated by a ballot measure.
With months of discussions leading up to Wednesday’s special meeting, a large crowd was expected, but it was still standing-room-only at the Community Center with nearly 200 in attendance. The first “call to the public” lasted just shy of four hours. About 36 speakers were opposed to allowing marijuana facilities, and about 23 were in favor, while there were also several speakers who just wanted to provide information without taking a position on which direction the city should go. Most of the speakers came from other communities, as only a quarter of those who spoke lived within the city.
Many of those who spoke out against allowing marijuana businesses in Brighton highlighted the dangers drug use poses to teens, and stated that it’s not needed in Brighton as there are already dispensaries only 8 miles away. Most of those who spoke in favor of allowing facilities pointed to the medicinal benefits, and some compared the recreational use as being similar to alcohol which is widely available within Brighton.
Several elected officials spoke during the “call to the public”, including Walled Lake’s Mayor Linda Ackley, who told the council that she couldn’t know which decision is best for Brighton, but relayed the benefits her community has seen from allowing dispensaries. Livingston County Commissioner Martin Smith and BAS Board Member John Conely both spoke in opposition. Two different board members from the Brighton District Library spoke, with Patrick McDonald explaining why he is opposed, and Dr. Caitlyn Perry Dial, who is also a Democratic candidate for the Livingston County Board of Commissioners, explaining why she is in favor of allowing marijuana businesses to operate within the city.
After a short recess following the “call to the public”, city council member Paul Gipson immediately made a motion to affirm the city’s opt-out status, with councilmember Pettengill supporting the motion. Councilmember Emaus brought attention to how the current position prevents not just the retail dispensaries, which are the focus of the controversy, but also the other commercial and industrial business types, and expressed a desire to give city staff clear direction on whether or not a path should be created for those other types of facilities. Councilmember Albert stated that the public deserved to hear council discuss the issue, and provided his reasons for not seeing a compelling need to change the status quo.
Councilmember Gipson explained that the views of those who live outside the city did matter, as they’re “still our neighbors”. And when expressing his support for affirming the opt-out status, Gipson said “anyone who wants it, has it. And anyone who doesn’t want to drive past a dispensary in the community where they’re raising their family, doesn’t have to.”
Mayor Pro Tem Bohn was in support of maintaining the status quo, but suggested the city staff should continue to work on potential ordinances for marijuana businesses, which could be used as a “poison pill” if a ballot measure were to arise within the city. Councilmember Gardner said her research is why she’s evolved on this issue, as there are 35 dispensaries within 25 miles, and what she has read about Washington and Colorado compels her to act on behalf of public health, so she wants “nothing to do with it in our city.”Councilmember Emaus stated he was “open to going either way on dispensaries”, but pointed out that the stories heard about current drug use among Brighton’s youth come as the result of the status quo prohibitive model.
The 6-1 vote, with Emaus being the lone dissent, serves to end the “will they or won’t they” limbo that has lasted for over a year. This allows the city administration and staff to know with more certainty what is desired by a city council that has seen two new members in the past six months. But just as Wednesday’s special meeting was to reconsider the original vote from December 2018, the city reserves the right to reconsider this issue again in the future.
Jordan Genso is a Brighton Realtor, Vice President of the Brighton District Library Board and the Democratic candidate for the 22nd state Senate District.