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‘Ganjaville,’ Alcona County

The latest from Alcona County, “First of the 83,” this month, is the sound of marijuana’s siren song ringing out across the land.

It has a reggae beat.

The cannabis economy is here for the taking — or forsaking. The cannabis economy takes many shapes — cultivation, security, transportation, and retail, both medicinal and recreational. Alpena originally decided to limit the business of cannabis to two medicinal dispensaries (it’s working to allow more), which yields zero extra revenue for the city, and zoned them away from downtown.

Harrisville, Alcona County’s seat, embraces it all.

Cheers to that! Harrisville’s forward-looking mayor, Jeffrey Gehring, gets major credit.

For decades, the town has tried to ignore the ruin porn that is the old Harrisville Tool Co. Adjacent to Harrisville State Park, the factory failed in the 1970s, leaving piles of weird graphite not-rocks — cubes, cylinders, rectangles — near the shore, many of which found their way into Lake Huron, which weathered them the way it does broken glass.

One can still find bits of polished graphite on the beach after storms. When it closed, the factory fell prey to bored teenagers, for whom there was next to no possibility of employment, or constructive engagement of any sort, who broke through the glass door and shattered the windows and glass bricks in the vestibule, and made the vast, empty interior into their clubhouse. Until the roof collapsed under a burden of snow one winter. Even when it operated and employed Harrisvillians, the place was always an eyesore. And an earsore! It roared constantly.

At least when it went out of business, it fell silent.

The cannabis economy to the rescue! Somebody — I don’t know who, I’m not a reporter — purchased the blighted property, and now a transformation is underway. A commercial marijuana-growing facility is taking shape there.

Under current law, Michiganders may cultivate six cannabis plants for personal use. Six plants, nourished with skill, will yield a pound of pot apiece. At retail rates, each plant is worth about $9,000. Six of them could provide a living wage at wholesale prices.

But private growers are prohibited from selling their surplus. They can give it away, and make many friends. They can smoke six pounds of weed a year — a quarter-ounce a day (bad idea, by the way).

But they can’t get any money for it. If they want to sell cannabis legally, they need deep pockets from the get-go (one needs money to make money, don’t one?).

Whoever is constructing the giant growing shed in Harrisville could afford the $6,000, non-refundable application fee to gain a grower’s license for 10 plants or more. He had the funds to hire a company from downstate to build the place. He will provide the kind of security one expects to see at a penitentiary. He will contract with an armored car service to transport his product to dispensaries. Even if the dispensary is a block away!

Harrisville will soon have a combination medicinal and recreational cannabis dispensary, unrelated, apparently, to the indoor cannabis farm. It is set to open just north of Alcona County’s only stoplight, next to Nana’s Dairy Dome, which is for sale. A shrewd investor, foreseeing a localized outbreak of The Munchies, would buy Nana’s now …

Most of Harrisville seems to be for sale. Someone with a million bucks to spare could purchase half of the town. Available properties include Richard’s Pharmacy, Shotmakers Bar and Grill (formerly the VFW Hall, then The Snake Pit, then Captain’s Corner, then The Corner Bar), Northern Accents home furnishing store, the long-abandoned State Park Store, the old hardware store and the adjacent storefront, and the list goes on…

Hopes for a Harrisville renaissance hinge on going green!

Like the commercial ganja grower, whoever is behind the dispensary must have major capital. Like cultivation, the buy-in cost of retailing cannabis is prohibitively high (no pun there). Witness this fact: only six applicants registered to operate in the outskirts of Alpena. Four were from downstate.

Shamefully, the scoring system that Alpena adopted to select the winners gave no extra weight to local entrepreneurs. As a result, applicants from the Detroit area received the licenses.

Jeers to that! What was the city government thinking?

In order for the cannabis economy to benefit more Michiganders, the state ought to reduce the cost to enter the market, where demand far exceeds supply. Until that happens, Harrisville turns its hopeful eyes to the cannabis economy, to rescue it from potential “ghost town” status.

Eric Paul Roorda is a professor, historian, lecturer, author, and illustrator. He has called Alcona County home for 50 years.

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