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Debate intensifies over where to allow medical marijuana in Benton Harbor

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- At the final public forum to discuss where to allow medical marijuana facilities in Benton Harbor on Tuesday, progress was slow and frustration was steady.

“I don’t see no benefit of bringing outside individuals in to take resources in a community that they don’t even reside in or could care less about the inner city,” said one man, who spoke up during the forum.

“I have no problem with outsiders coming in hiring my people!” said Benton Harbor City Commissioner Juanita Henry.

There were different stances expressed on Tuesday about a leafy topic.

About a dozen people showed up to the city’s final medical marijuana forum.

Some expressed frustration over not the cloud of smoke hanging over the city’s planning commission, but the cloud of confusion.

“We want to come to Benton Harbor,” said Brett Thompson, the owner of Apogee Cannabis Group. “We want to invest in Benton Harbor; start businesses here, several businesses. And we’re just – we keep hitting road block after road block. We’re making progress in many other communities throughout southwest Michigan, as a matter of fact. I know you folks have the same city attorney as Buchanan, Michigan. Buchanan, Michigan’s way, way far ahead; way far ahead.”

The debate inside city hall on Tuesday boiled over to the point where planning commission member Emma Kinnard made a surprise announcement.

“I want to just – I’ll let you all know now: Since I don’t feel like I’m going to be really good for what’s going on, I want to resign today,” Kinnard said.

Medical marijuana is coming to Benton Harbor. The question is where?

Commissioners can decide to limit the various types of facilities to industrial areas that can use the upgrade.

Businesses may pop up in residential areas, if permitted.

But a hot button is downtown Benton Harbor. There are many empty storefronts, but places with potential like the arts district lead to some hesitation.

“There are a lot of people of the opinion that it could be a help and that it could be a positive influence,” said Rich Hensel, the president of Benton Harbor’s Downtown Development Authority. “But then there are people who are residents of the downtown area and mixed-use areas who are concerned about what affect these different types of uses will have on their homes.”

The planning commission will meet next on Tuesday, February 6 for a regular 1 o’clock meeting at city hall.

They might make a decision on zoning rules then.

Thompson said after the forum that the process is discouraging him and his business partners a bit from wanting to set up shop in Benton Harbor, unless things improve.  

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