‘Bold move’: Harrisville residents back pot plan

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Alcona Coffee Co. owner Pat Bushey and Harrisville Township resident Doug Cheeks enjoy a cup of coffee in downtown Harrisville on Wednesday.

HARRISVILLE — Harrisville residents and business owners seem to be buying in to the idea of having recreational marijuana businesses in the city, hoping the change will provide a much-needed boost for the downtown.

The Harrisville City Council on Monday voted to begin the process off allowing commercial sales of recreational and medical marijuana in the city. The city’s Planning Commission will begin working with Tom Reif, consultant with Michigan Municipal Cannabis Consultants, to develop zoning regulations.

Michigan voters legalized marijuana in November. Harrisville this week became the first Northeast Michigan community to allow marijuana businesses, meaning it will share in the proceeds of a state tax on sales of the drug.

Pat Bushey, owner of the Alcona Coffee Co., said the council’s decision shows they are trying to be proactive.

“I think that’s good for the city,” he said. “We need to increase our tax base. We need more business.”

Bushey said the recession took a lot of the summer business away, which a lot of the city’s businesses counted on to get through the year. He said the downtown has also been impacted by people choosing to travel to larger communities, like Alpena or Tawas, to do their shopping.

He believes more business will breed more business.

Harrisville resident Mael Fritz Wilson, who formerly served on the city’s Planning Commission, said she’s pleased the city is putting “an entrepreneurial foot forward.” She said she cares a lot about economic growth and skilled jobs being available for people in Alcona County, and Harrisville in particular, because it is the county seat.

Fritz Wilson hopes that allowing recreational marijuana to be sold in Harrisville would allow other storefronts to open and draw people to Harrisville from other communities in Northeast Michigan.

“If we could get an influx of tourism and shoppers from Alpena and Tawas and the surrounding areas, that would be beneficial for the small community,” she said.

Doug Cheeks, a Harrisville Township resident who frequents the city often, said the council’s decision was “a bold move” for the city that demonstrates they’re open for businesses.

“Entrepreneurs will take notice of that,” he said. “Whether its the recent changes in the marijuana laws or just the fact that the city is demonstrating openness just to attract economic development.”

None of the residents or business owners The News spoke to Wednesday expressed opposition to the city’s decision. Harrisville Mayor Jeffrey Gehring said he was “shocked and surprised” that he hasn’t heard any feedback from residents who are opposed to council’s decision.

He said the legalization of recreational marijuana is a polarizing issue. Harrisville residents narrowly voted in favor of the statewide ballot proposal in November.

“I expect some criticism or pushback at some point but, as of right now, everybody that I’ve talked to has been excited and thinks it’s a great decision,” he said.