By Charles Sercombe
Once again, another page has turned on the calendar, and we all recently kissed the year 2020 good-bye.
Or, as some may say: Good riddance.
And once again it’s time we, here at The Review, announce the “Newsmaker of the Year.”
The obvious choice is COVID.
There were over 1,600 cases reported here in Hamtramck leading up to the new year, and 36 residents were reported dead from the disease.
(There are now over 1,700 cases and 37 deaths reported for the past 10 months.)
While COVID affected just about every aspect of our lives here, nationally and the world over, we like to keep our Newsmaker title for something that was more hyper-local.
And that issue didn’t spark up until the last couple months of the year.
You can probably guess just what was stirred up a still-raging debate: Yes, marijuana.
Or more specifically, whether to allow recreational marijuana shops to operate here.
So, what started up a debate that no one saw coming?
It began about two months ago when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a marijuana sales shop opened up in a refurbished veterans post on Holbrook near Lumpkin.
Some in the community were immediately outraged that the city allowed this to happen without at least giving the city council a heads-up.
But there was a problem with this argument. In 2018, Michigan voters agreed to allow recreation marijuana to be consumed and sold.
Communities statewide were given the choice to “opt in” – in other words, allow this new type of business; or to “opt out,” which would have banned that type of business.
Hamtramck, like a number of other communities, did nothing. Except there was one city council resolution a couple of years ago that came forward recommending to opt out.
But a strange thing happened when that resolution came forward for a vote: two councilmembers who would have voted for it mysteriously didn’t show up at the meeting.
The vote still went forward, but there weren’t enough votes pass it.
In the absence of neither opting in or out, state law allows a business to open up in a community during that vacuum.
Flash forward to a couple of months ago, and investors took advantage of that loophole.
City officials insisted that they treated the permits involved just like any other legal business wishing to operate here. Officials further stressed that there was no need to cause any fanfare.
The state also has a hand in the permit process involved for marijuana dispensaries.
That led to an outcry, with mostly residents from the Bangladeshi and Yemeni Muslim communities calling for city officials to stop all future sales outlets from opening.
The four current Muslim city councilmembers heeded the call, and rushed through what some say is a hastily drawn-up city ordinance banning marijuana sales.
The issue pried opened wide an already existing cultural divide between the socially conservative Muslim community, and the white non-Muslim community – in this case, mostly younger white adults.
You would think the matter ends there, but it looks like the marijuana debate will linger on in 2021.
A group of residents gathered signatures on a petition to force the city council to reconsider their vote, and to possibly allow city voters to ultimately decide whether to allow sales.
It is believed that there are two to three other marijuana dispensaries preparing to open in the city, but it’s unclear whether they beat the deadline to get their paperwork with the state approved before the ordinance was approved.
Hamtramck is not alone in struggling with this issue.
About 1,400 communities out of the state’s 1,773 cities, villages and township have opted out of allowing sales.
Over 80 communities are allowing sales – including nearby Detroit and several suburban communities in the metro region.
Opponents say they fear that allowing sales will attract crime, and that the products will eventually get in the hands of children – worries that proponents of marijuana sales say are baseless and already debunked.
Proponents also point to the fact that this industry is reaping millions of dollars in sales and, thus, local communities allowing dispensaries are profiting handsomely from additional tax revenue.
If the matter does go to a vote in the community, there is a good chance it would get shot down, since the city’s largest voting bloc is Muslim.
For the time being, marijuana sales will remain a hot topic for 2021. And, sadly, so will COVID.
Posted Jan. 16, 2021