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For this medical pot dispensary, the future might lie with voters

Stephen Ezell holds one of his campaign signs in his store, Interlochen Alternative Health, a medical marijuana dispensary in Green Lake Township. He's hoping voters there approve recreational marijuana sales.
Ed Ronco
/
IPR News
Stephen Ezell holds one of his campaign signs in his store, Interlochen Alternative Health, a medical marijuana dispensary in Green Lake Township. He's hoping voters there approve recreational marijuana sales. (Photo: Ed Ronco/IPR News)

Local governments were able to opt out of Michigan's legalization of recreational marijuana. Now, voters in Green Lake Township, Petoskey and Frankfort will decide whether to reverse course.

Since 2013, Stephen Ezell and his family have run Interlochen Alternative Health, a medical marijuana dispensary in Green Lake Township.

On this day, two people walk through the door, but they aren’t here for gummies or smokable flower. Beth Ann and Ken Densmore are here for a campaign sign.

“Keep the green in green!” it says — a reference to money and marijuana.

Green Lake Township is one of many communities in northern Michigan deciding on recreational — or "adult-use" — marijuana at the ballot box on Tuesday.

Back in 2018, voters approved the sale of cannabis products to anyone over age 21 in Michigan. But the law allowed individual communities to opt out of the recreational marijuana market.

Green Lake Township, southwest of Traverse City, was among them.

“I never in my lifetime thought it would be legal, and I think it should be,” Beth Ann Densmore said.

If there can be bars and liquor stores in a community, she says, why not a marijuana store? That gives people a local place to buy products, and provides some tax revenue to Green Lake Township.

“It’s a win-win situation,” she said. “I would rather be around a bunch of potheads than around drunks. People get crazy. You don’t die from pot.”

Ezell, the store owner, is the force behind this measure on the Green Lake Township ballot, which is essentially a citizen’s veto, seeking to overturn a decision earlier this year by the township board, opting out of having adult-use marijuana sales in their community.

“It’ll probably determine whether we survive or not,” Ezell told IPR News. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be going deep into my retirement savings to try and salvage this.”

He says the number of medical marijuana cardholders is declining. Sales data would appear to support that.

In September of 2022 — the most recent month of state data available — medical marijuana facilities in Michigan sold about $16.6 million in product, from flowers to vape cartridges to edible products.

In the same month a year ago, it was more than double that, at nearly $36.5 million.

Ezell says the key to surviving in the industry is to add recreational marijuana sales. It’s not a move he wanted to make.

His start in medical marijuana traces back to when his wife, Barbara, got cancer. HE says he saw how medical marijuana helped her, and they decided to start a business to try and help others, too.

That was 2013.

“If I had my way, recreational would have never came on,” he said. “We’d have stayed with medical. But I can’t help it. It changed, the people approved it, and it’s just a fact of life right now that medical will not survive.”

He says he’s butted heads with some members of the Green Lake Township Board, and that they don’t seem interested in the tax revenue a recreational marijuana retailer would bring.

IPR reached out to the four trustees on the board through their public e-mail addresses. Three didn’t respond and one declined our request for an interview. If the measure on the ballot passes in Green Lake Township, the board would be required to allow adult-use sales within its borders.

BEYOND GREEN LAKE TOWNSHIP

Voters will also decide on marijuana sales about a half-hour to the west of here, in Frankfort.

“I’m excited to see what their position is on this,” said Joshua Mills, the city superintendent.

If voters approve recreational marijuana there, Mills says it could bring in more than $14,000 in tax revenue each year.

“That’s a block of sidewalk,” he said. “If you save it for five years, that’s a police car. So it’s real.”

There’s also a marijuana measure on the ballot in Petoskey, where voters will decide whether to reverse course from their 2020 decision to ban recreational marijuana facilities.

IT’S PERSONAL

Ezell, 72, says he’s optimistic about winning his campaign to allow recreational sales in Green Lake Township. If he loses, and voters maintain the ban on recreational sales, he says he’ll probably retire.

“I don’t know, I’d have to reassess everything at that point in time,” he said. “I put all my energy and effort into this.”

And most of his money, too. Ezell says he’s invested about $200,000 in the business so far, including most of his retirement funds. For that reason, he wants to win.

But this is also personal. His wife, Barbara, died in May after eight years of fighting ovarian cancer.

“One of the last things my wife said on her death bed was ‘Don’t give up,’” Ezell said. “She wanted me to continue the fight, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Ed Ronco is IPR's news director.