From "Kingpins" to Legal Titans: The Cannabis Battle Heats Up in Menominee

September 9th, 2023 Legal & Crime
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The once-feared "kingpins" of yesteryears are now legally armed investors. While they've traded bullets for lawsuits, the financial stakes remain high.

In Menominee, a quaint city nestled by the northwestern shores of Lake Michigan, allegations of murky ethics, clandestine dealings, and potential conflicts of interest are rife.

Although the Menominee cannabis market doesn't seem too promising at first glance, it's pegged to be worth tens of millions. The high demand isn't primarily driven by the city's residents but by its proximity to Wisconsin, which hasn't legalized the retail sale of recreational cannabis and might not for a few years.

This strategic location has fueled a booming cross-border cannabis business.

Michigan's Cannabis Licensing Landscape

Michigan places no cap on the number of cannabis businesses within its communities. Local governments or voter initiatives shape the licensing processes. Many Michigan regions have enacted bans on cannabis enterprises. However, Menominee reversed its stance in October 2020, launching a scoring system for applicants and paving the way for two recreational cannabis stores.

Among the 14 applicants, Rize (operating under First Property Holdings) and the Fire Station clinched the licenses. Those unsuccessful alleged the selection was biased and subsequently sued Menominee.

These companies, including prominent names like Lume, Higher Love, and Green Pharm, found their efforts thwarted in court. Yet, they weren't done.

Legal Resolutions and Continued Conflict

Before the legal tussle concluded, these cannabis companies proposed a settlement to the city council. They offered to withdraw the lawsuits in exchange for business licenses. The council passed the settlement, 6-3, after the court's decision, leading to another lawsuit alleging conspiracy between Menominee politicians and certain cannabis firms.

Councilwoman Marineau, among the dissenters, remains perplexed over the council's insistence on issuing licenses to companies that previously sued.

Alleged Ethical Missteps

The lawsuit points to potential ethics violations. It claims some cannabis company lawyers, notably from OI Holdings, had undue communications with council members who later backed their settlement. A notable link exists between an attorney from OI Holdings and Councilman Josh Jones, brothers. While this potential conflict was declared, it wasn't deemed problematic by the council.

A Tug-of-War With the Voters

The council's decisions did not go unchallenged. Menominee residents, spearheaded by Adam Michaud, sought to bring the matter before voters. Yet, maneuvers by the city council appear to have sidelined this initiative, sparking another legal challenge alleging a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

Expert Opinion

Commenting on the ongoing saga, John Chamberlain, a former ethics professor at the University of Michigan, expressed shock. He underscored the importance of transparency, echoing Justice Brandeis's sentiment that "sunshine is the best disinfectant."

While legal maneuvers dominate the current landscape, Chamberlain feels that the essence of democracy and ethical governance shouldn't be lost amidst the legalities.

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