Marijuana moves into the spotlight

Decades ago comedians Cheech and Chong gave new meaning to the phrase “up in smoke.”

And while it was a different time and certainly a different culture, it seems to me that marijuana could be a major focus for all of us in 2018. Indeed, (with full pun intended), it could become the “buzz” word of the year.

Consider the fact that already two statewide issues regarding marijuana could come before voters in November next year. The issues mirror referendums and questions brought before voters in many other states in recent years.

And, we saw on the local level this week Alpena Municipal Council members wrestling with the issue as well as they began research on whether to allow medical marijuana businesses within the city. Council members became involved because state officials will not have a final determination regarding governing regulations over the industry until July 1 next summer. Because of that delay, local governments are allowed to either “opt in” or “opt out” for medical marijuana businesses to operate within their entities for six months.

City Planning and Development Director Adam Poll informed council on the basics this week. At council’s next meeting Dec. 18, the matter could be discussed much more in-depth.

And make no mistake, there is interest in having medical marijuana sold within the city boundaries.

“There is definitely interest from locals and people from downstate,” Poll told council this week. “I get calls routinely asking me if the city is going to opt in.”

Evidence of the interest in the marijuana business can quickly be verified by looking no further away than Gaylord, where several businesses are in operation.

While economics is driving the marijuana push these days, another force — politics — also is at work here. As Democrats are very interested in getting registered voters to the polls next year in key mid-year elections, ballot issues that are emotional, such as marijuana use, are one way of getting their electorate interested and engaged. Again, looking to other states and their experiences, marijuana-related ballot issues drive out residents to vote.

I learned a long time ago that if you want to get to the bottom of an issue, follow the money surrounding it.

With marijuana that can be a long and winding road that includes government leaders looking for new tax sources, entrepreneurs looking to make it rich and next door neighbors looking to make a living.

Definitely marijuana has moved to center stage in debates and discussion in Michigan. I suspect that in 2018, it will grab more and more headlines.

Bill Speer can be reached via email at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 354-3111 ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13.