By Charles Sercombe
For a moment, it looked like Hamtramck was on its way to begin the first step in allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to operate here.
But seemingly out of nowhere, the city council was faced with impassioned opposition to the proposal at Tuesday’s council meeting.
An overflow of mostly Bengali- and Yemeni-Americans spoke out against it. Several speakers repeated basically the same message: Allowing dispensaries to operate here will mean kids will gain increased access to marijuana, the city is too small, it will attract crime, marijuana – legal or not – is not good for people and those who need it can go to any nearby Detroit dispensary.
Kamal Rahman said the city needs to first conduct an “impact study” on allowing dispensaries.
He added that without a doubt, access to medical marijuana will eventually trickle down to younger people.
“This is no benefit to the youth,” he said.
Abraham Aiyash, who recently ran unsuccessfully for state senator for the district that represents Hamtramck, said that even though he is in favor of medical marijuana, the council has to listen to the community.
He said even though dispensaries will bring in added tax revenue for the city, “the economic benefits do not outweigh community concern.”
Making dispensaries legal here has followed a rocky road ever since Michigan voters approved the use and sale of medical marijuana in 2008.
At first city officials seemed gung-ho on it, but as Republican state legislators increasingly looked for ways to limit it – and even abolish it – they backed off on the matter.
It has been several years since anyone in the administration even worked on the issue.
That was until this past year when councilmembers decided it was time to act on it. State officials have finally come up with regulations that they can live with – although many say it is much too strict and eliminates any “mom and pop” shop from ever opening up.
Hamtramck’s city attorneys have finally produced a proposed ordinance regulating the licensing of would-be operators and also created a zoning plan where dispensaries and grow facilities can set up.
But because of Tuesday’s backlash, Councilmember Andrea Karpinski proposed to postpone the issue until November.
Councilmember Anam Miah agreed, but only if the city holds a town meeting on the subject.
Miah, who supports dispensaries, said there is too much “bad information” out in the community, and people need to be educated on the matter.
“There is a large amount of misunderstanding,” Miah said.
He added: “Everyone who spoke, you have truly been misinformed.”
All but Councilmembers Saad Almasmari and Fadel Al-Marsoumi agreed to that resolution.
Both wanted to vote on the matter then and there. Almasmari said he is against it.
Al-Marsoumi told The Review he is against dispensaries being located here.
“I’ve always been against it,” he said.
He said dispensaries attract undesirable people and that the city is too small. Plus, he said, it will stretch the city’s police force.
“Based on what I see in Detroit, we don’t need this,” he said.
The city has hosted several public meetings, including most recently a town hall meeting at the public library. Hardly anyone attended that meeting, and there might have been one or two people who said they were against dispensaries.
What happened in the meantime?
It appears word-of-mouth finally activated community members.
Community activist Bill Meyer, who said his wife is a medical marijuana user and that he has smoked marijuana in the past, said the city has to pay attention to the “majority” of the city.
Back in 2008 when legalizing medical marijuana was a state ballot issue there was no public comment locally about the issue. Hamtramck voters voted in favor of legalizing medical marijuana by a whopping two-to-one majority.
That was the year President Obama was elected to office, and Hamtramck voters came out in droves. Some 5,778 voters participated in that election. The medical marijuana ordinance passed 2,968 to 1,814.
Carrie Beth Lasley, a government watchdog, said it doesn’t make economic sense for the city to get involved.
There have also been threats of a political backlash. On Councilmember Ian Perrotta’s Facebook page, Abdulmalik Kassim, the president of the Yemeni American Leadership Association, warned:
“The City Council Members decision today on the permission of selling marijuana in our city will determine our future support for the council members on their election campaigns. We are absolutely against the sale of marijuana in our city. For those who wish to buy marijuana for medical purposes, Detroit is not so far away.”
Over at Mayor Karen Majewski’s Facebook page, Abu Zane went a bit further, saying:
“We Bangladesh and Yemeni Community promise you that you will never be mayor again in Hamtramck. I promise if it take everything in our power to do so you will see. You forget we have the majority, we put (you) in that seat and we will get you out of it that I can guarantee. You can choose to keep ignoring our message but I know you see it and I promise you enjoy your seat while you still on it won’t be for long.”
Majewski said she is in favor of dispensaries here. She responded to Zane saying this:
“I serve the entire Hamtramck community, not one constituency, and I base my decisions not on who shouts the loudest or threatens most visibly, but on sound research and a view of the city that looks to our future potential and the entirety of our residents. Bluster and intimidation doesn’t scare me.”
A town hall meeting on the subject will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 30 at the Public Library. Details of the meeting are still being worked out.
Oct. 12, 2018