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Niles businesses shocked and disappointed by surprise vote on marijuana ban

NOW: Niles businesses shocked and disappointed by surprise vote on marijuana ban

NILES, Mich. -- Some Niles businesses are still in shock after a surprise move by the city council at Monday night’s meeting. The council made an unscheduled vote on an ordinance to ban future marijuana businesses in the city.

The vote was brought by an outgoing council member and despite Mayor Nick Shelton's recommendation against it -- the ordinance passed. Many business owners say, this goes against what they want and what the voters asked for.

The Paris Soda Shop in downtown Niles has been an institution for many years. Despite its deep roots in the city, owner Jim Morris says about 60 percent of his business comes from tourists. A number he believes would increase greatly with the addition of recreational marijuana to the city.

“Everybody thinks that you’re going to have a bunch of stoned people walking around downtown, but the law doesn’t let you smoke it in public," said Morris. "What these people are going to do is they are going to come buy the product and then probably visit other places while they are in town and that’s just a big deal. Tourism is a very big deal in Southwest Michigan."

Morris feels the city council’s surprise vote to ban future pot shops is a big blow to tourism in Niles.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of potential investors that aren’t going to want to wait around," said Morris. "They are going to go on to the next place or whatever is available first.”

Sarah Britton owns Pizza Transit right across the street from the soda shop.

“I think it was going to be a good thing for downtown," said Britton. "It would have brought new people to downtown, more revenue into the city and I think a lot of us would have supported going to a meeting where this was going to be brought up and we had no idea it was going to happen last night and so it was kind of a surprise to us.”

Her husband Nick even sent a letter along with a petition of 70 signatures to the council the day after Proposal 1 passed asking them not to move forward with the ban.

“Almost every business owner I know signed that petition and it’s clear everyone is really excited about it," said Britton. "Whether you’re going to partake or not I think a lot of people are moving forward in that idea of allowing freedom to do business and having an open mind and wanting more business for Niles.”

Bryan Williams owns The Brass Eye Lounge.

He sent us this statement:

"I believe an all out preemptive ban this early in the game is unnecessary. Some city council members have been quoted as saying this is "temporary" although there is no wording in the ordinance that would lead one to believe that. I hope this is the case and I hope that Niles as a whole can see the benefit and reap the financial rewards of having recreational marijuana available to not only Michigan residents but tourists as well, especially on Notre Dame weekends. We need to get out ahead of this and lead the way, not cower in the fear of change."

The one thing these business owners are hopeful about is the potential for at least two new faces coming to the council -- Jessica Nelson in the 4th ward and possibly Travis Timm, who is currently locked in a tie vote with Council Member Bob Durm. Both have said they would have voted against a ban.

“They have fresh ideas and have actually come in and talked to us business owners about what we want to see happen downtown and what we care about seeing in our community and have actually gotten out and reached out to the public and cared about what we have to say and what we want," said Britton.

“60 percent of the people voted for it," added Morris. "So that means there’s a lot of people out there that want something started -- at least in process now."

The language under Proposal 1 allows citizens to petition to get a measure added to the ballot in the next election that would allow voters to decide whether marijuana businesses should be allowed in the city. All of the business ABC57 spoke with say they would support a measure like that, but it's not something they are planning at this point.

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