By Carol Stiffler

Beginning Sunday, December 1, it will be legal to sell recreational marijuana to buyers age 21 and up across the state of Michigan.

It’s been legal to grow and use recreational marijuana all year. Voters across the state approved that change in November 2018, with 55.9 percent of voters in favor. It’s just the matter of legalizing the sale of marijuana that has taken until now.

Even so, it won’t be easy to find a cannabis dispensary this weekend. The Newberry Village Council recently voted against allowing marijuana sales in the village limits, joining 79 percent of other communities across the state. Nearly 1,400 of the state’s 1,773 cities, towns and villages have agreed they won’t allow marijuana sales within their boundaries.

Newberry Village President Lori Stokes said she voted against allowing dispensaries because the state didn’t have clear guidelines for operating them. “To date all the state had were a set of emergency rules,” Stokes said. “When we get a clear set of guidelines and rules to comply with, I would be more than willing to vote on the issue again.”

Stokes said no one from the community has come to her with concerns for or against the sale of marijuana in Newberry.

But fellow council trustee Catherine Freese has her own reasons for voting in favor of having dispensaries in town.

“I have witnessed first hand the benefits of marijuana use,” Freese said. “I have seen people with terminal illness eat when they no longer could; have less pain without painkillers; and have a better quality of life before their death. I have seen people with severe pain stop relying on highly addictive painkillers and people with mental health illnesses stop relying on antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication. The stereotypical ‘stoner’ who sits on the couch and plays video games isn’t that way because of the marijuana. There’s always other factors involved.”

Freese said that currently, the closest dispensaries are in Negaunee and Rogers City, both about three hours away from Newberry. Other communities that have agreed to allow it, like Sault Ste. Marie, are still working on the process for permits. Two dispensaries there are in the works, but neither are likely to be open on December 1.

Some people are banking on the future success of cannabis in the state. Lake Superior State University now offers two new marijuana-related majors: Cannabis Chemistry and Cannabis Business. Both are evidence that the marijuana industry is expected to alter the the business scene.

Steve Johnson, Dean of the College of Science and the Environment at Lake State, said the university has about 50 students in the related majors now and there’s room for more. The students are results-driven and want to be successful, he said.

“They’re very, very serious,” Johnson said. “It’s quite the opposite of what some people might think, that it’s some sort of recreational degree or experience. It’s a scientific degree that really has to do with compliance and safety for consumers. The students are very professional.”

Johnson said the Cannabis major students are already sought after for internships and their expertise will be valuable nationwide.

There’s still a hurdle to clear here at home, however, as communities remain skittish about supporting something that has for so long been illegal. There are tax incentives: Michigan communities that allow sales of marijuana will receive a portion of the 10 percent excise tax, which is estimated to raise $180.5 million in 2020 and $287.9 million by 2023.

The potential increase in tax revenues is appealing to Stokes. “Any time our community stands to gain funds, I find it alluring,” she said. “But that all remains to be seen if that would be the case or not. I would rather take some time and see how all of this plays out before having our community make a decision in haste.”

No matter where they buy it, marijuana users are expected to act responsibly.

“It’ll be enforced like it is with alcohol,” said Luce County Undersheriff Eric Gravelle. “The legal age is 21. You can’t have it in your system when you’re driving.” It is also illegal to furnish it to minors.

Additionally, businesses can still refuse to employ people who test positive for THC, the component of marijuana that makes users get high.

Gravelle said his department is taking the change in stride. “I’ve been in law enforcement long enough,” he said. “Many laws have changed over the years. It wasn’t surprising that it happened.”