Menominee Mayor-Elect Tells Local Dispensaries to 'Knock It Off' Amid Legal Battles

December 15th, 2023 Business & Industry
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In Menominee, Michigan, the incoming mayor, Casey Hoffman, has initiated a bold move against two local cannabis dispensaries, Rize and The Fire Station. These dispensaries are currently embroiled in a legal battle with the city over its marijuana business regulations. Hoffman, who is poised to take office shortly, has publicly urged these establishments to withdraw their lawsuits aimed at reinstating the city's original marijuana ordinance.

Hoffman's letter sharply criticizes the ongoing legal actions of Rize and The Fire Station, with one lawsuit seeking to revert to the limited-permit ordinance and another alleging corruption and conspiracy by city officials and other companies in modifying the rules. Hoffman's blunt message to these companies: "This conduct is beneath the dignity of Rize and The Fire Station. Kindly knock it off."

Responding to these remarks, Mike Cox, the attorney for Rize, defended their stance. Cox conveyed that Rize is not opposed to competition, provided the rules are equitable for all. He criticized the city council for allegedly diluting ethics rules to benefit their associates, bypassing the citizens' right to vote on marijuana policy, and creating biased regulations to favor certain companies, thereby violating state law.

Hoffman labeled the dispensaries' claims as politically motivated. He criticized the involvement of external cannabis companies in local politics and their accusations of unethical behavior among city council members without substantial evidence. He also mentioned the use of outside protestors by these companies to spread misinformation in Menominee.

The recent marijuana ordinance, which prevented a ballot initiative regarding the permit limit from reaching voters, was another point of contention. Hoffman expressed regret that Menominee citizens were not given a chance to vote on the number of dispensaries they desired, leading to an unregulated market with a potential influx of dispensaries.

The Menominee city council will soon see new faces, with Cheryl Haupt and Steve Fifarek defeating incumbents in their respective wards. Haupt, in response to Hoffman's comments about campaign funding by a company connected to The Fire Station, clarified that she was unaware of such efforts until she received a campaign mailer. Haupt also shared her view that the city should compromise on the number of dispensaries, based on a nearly evenly split public vote from three years ago regarding the presence of marijuana businesses in Menominee.

Hoffman, concerned about potential future lawsuits from other companies like Lume, Higher Love, and Nirvana, emphasized that while these companies are no different from Rize and The Fire Station, they are presently bound by a settlement agreement reached earlier this year.

With Hoffman, Fifarek, and Haupt set to assume office soon, Menominee awaits the outcomes of these contentious issues, with legal hearings for the lawsuits involving Rize and The Fire Station scheduled into the next year.

In a decisive move, Menominee's Mayor-Elect Casey Hoffman addressed the ongoing legal tussle in a detailed open letter. Here's what Hoffman had to say about the situation and his expectations from the local dispensaries:

Dear Editor,

I am writing to invite the owners of Rize Cannabis and The Fire Station Cannabis Co. to formally restart a relationship with the City of Menominee by dropping all lawsuits.  The Menominee City Council chose to uncap its marijuana market, in large part, because of revenue shortfalls resulting from a shrinking tax base. Rize and The Fire Station responded to competition with a series of tactics that I object to.

In June, a political action committee with ties to The Fire Station sent thousands of dollars in mail advertisements to Menominee residents falsely calling the city council corrupt. One mail advertisement pictured a man with fingers crossed behind his back. In July, a second political action committee with ties to The Fire Station hired out-of-town protestors to collect signatures from Menominee residents in an attempt to shut down three dispensaries.  A paid protestor harassed Council Member Jackie Nutter at her home.

The city council responded by following the city charter, which requires a formal review of the ordinance being challenged after sufficient signatures are collected. The city council updated the ordinance by increasing funding to police for marijuana enforcement and adjusting zoning regulations. Unable to effectively change policy, Rize and The Fire Station tried to change city leadership.

In October, a company with ties to The Fire Station spent thousands of dollars in political advertisements campaigning for Jean Stegeman, Steve Fifarek, and Cheryl Haupt. This happened, presumably, without coordination from any candidate. Recently, Rize lawyers convinced a court to temporarily shut down three Menominee dispensaries — uprooting 70-plus dispensary jobs overnight — only to have the ruling reversed by the court days later when additional facts were revealed.

This conduct is beneath the dignity of Rize and The Fire Station.  Kindly knock it off.  A free market has brought five dispensaries to Menominee, for now.  When Wisconsin inevitable legalizes recreational marijuana, competition will greatly reduce the number of dispensaries in Menominee.  I encourage Rize and The Fire Station to enjoy this rare window of profitability and rejoin the Menominee community.

Responding to Mayor-Elect Hoffman's assertive stance, Mike Cox, the attorney representing Rize, shared a comprehensive rebuttal. Below is the statement from Cox, clarifying Rize's perspective on the ongoing legal battles:

We don't fear competition, in fact, as Judge Barglind found, we won our license through an open and fair competition that complied with State law. We are all about competition – when the rules are the same for everybody.

This matter is in court in front of the Honorable Judge Mary B. Barglind so it is our intent to confine our arguments to the courtroom. 

But we are surprised that a public official in his first week on the job feels compelled to lecture job creators like RIZE on how to create jobs and do business.   So it bears repeating that our lawsuit is all about competition:  This past summer, career politicians on the City Council watered down ethics rules to helped their cronies who could not compete with us in a fair competition for licenses, then they trampled on the rights of Menominee's citizens to vote on marihuana policy, and finally, created crazy rules to favor certain crony companies, allowed connected politicians to make money, and violated State law.  That is not competition.

As a good corporate citizen of Menominee that employee Menominee residents and invests more dollars than any other marihuana company in Menominee, we hope that in the future Mr. Hoffman will focus on creating stronger ethical rules for politicians such as himself, instead of engaging in the same old tired political posturing.  And we respectfully suggest that Mr. Hoffman leave the legal arguments to the real lawyers who are in court in front of Judge Barglind.

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