COLDWATER, Mich. (WANE) — The interchange of Interstate 69 and U.S. 12 at the eastern edge of Coldwater, Michigan offers most of the businesses and amenities highway checkpoints near cities usually offer.
Weary drivers can grab a cup of joe at Biggby Coffee, and local residents can grab groceries at either an ALDI or a Walmart.
The interchange is also densely populated with marijuana dispensaries, representing an industry that has exploded in Michigan in the five years since its statewide legalization.
Marijuana dispensaries could soon become a common sight in neighboring Ohio as residents prepare to vote on a proposed statute that would make Ohio the latest state to legalize recreational marijuana.
Over the summer, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) obtained enough signatures to get the proposed statute, which would enact Chapter 3780 of the Ohio Revised Code, on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Dubbed Issue 2, the statute needs a simple majority vote to pass.
The statute, which can be found in its entirety on the Ohio Secretary of State’s website, has spawned arguments from those in favor of and against legalizing recreational marijuana.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine spoke with WANE 15 Friday and reiterated that he is opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana.
“I think it really would be a mistake for us to pass recreational marijuana,” DeWine said. “We already have on the books medical marijuana; I think that’s fine, and it provides help to people, but to go to recreational marijuana, I think we need to look at what other states have been doing.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine explains stance against Issue 2
DeWine said he is worried legalizing recreational marijuana would cause Ohio to see an increase in residents driving under the influence, children being hospitalized for accidental overdoses and a culture shift that would be detrimental to Ohioans.
On the other hand, the CRMLA states the statute would benefit Ohio by generating hundreds of millions of dollars while also providing citizens expanded access to use marijuana for medical reasons.
Economic Growth and New Issues in Michigan
North of Ohio, Michigan has been one of the few Midwest states to legalize recreational marijuana after a majority of residents voted in favor of it in 2018.
Ahead of the election, WANE 15 visited Coldwater which is roughly 30 minutes north of Ohio and around 15 minutes away from northeast Indiana, to see how legalized marijuana has affected the community.
Joe Scheid, director of Public Safety with the City of Coldwater, said the topic did not cause any major issues in the community, but there were plenty of people who leaned both ways.
“In our community, just like any community, it can be a little bit polarizing,” Scheid said. “We had some people that were very much pro-marijuana and were very supportive of it, and we had other portions of our community that were not supportive of it.”
When Michigan counties voted on statewide legalization in November 2018, Branch County, where Coldwater resides, voted against the proposal with 52.65% of the vote going against it.
However, three of Coldwater’s four precincts voted in favor of the proposal, and once recreational marijuana became legal statewide, the City of Coldwater eventually decided to allow it within city limits with some stipulations.
“When the City of Coldwater decided to opt in, there was some discussion of whether we should allow it downtown versus on the east side of our community, which is considered more of a commercial district,” Scheid said.
Scheid said city officials decided to keep the marijuana dispensaries in the city’s commercial district so customers would have easier access with I-69 and downtown Coldwater could keep its “small, quaint downtown feeling.”
With around a dozen marijuana dispensaries now stationed on the east side of Coldwater, county officials and dispensary employees both said the economic changes in the area have been for the better.
Joshua Heaney, store manager at Sapura’s Coldwater location, said he has seen the city grow considerably since working at Sapura.
“Coldwater was considered a smaller town and now you have cannabis coming in, but now I also see them building high-rise apartments down the road and I see new businesses coming in as well,” Heaney said. “It’s awesome to see that cannabis can transform some of these small towns into these big, booming epicenters.”
Coldwater City Manager Keith Baker, who also serves as president of the Branch County Economic Growth Alliance, also said the dispensaries have aided economic growth in the last few years.
“We’ve seen property value rise [and] we’ve seen the dispensaries take rundown buildings and renovate them,” Baker said.
Baker said the City of Coldwater receives financial distributions from the State of Michigan each March related to revenue sales from Coldwater’s dispensaries.
The City of Coldwater has only received two distributions so far, but Baker said Coldwater City Council has put the money toward park and recreation projects, and Branch County also receives distributions that have been used for the county’s budget to offset other costs.
“We’re doing a big park renovation next year that’s going to be financed by the revenues that we’ve received from the state sales tax,” Baker said.
Bayley Turney, an employee at Aim High Meds in Coldwater, said many of the dispensary’s customers actually come from outside Michigan.
“I would say it’s a majority of our business,” Turney said. “I see so many Indiana customers [and] new customers every single day, not just returning customers, coming from Indiana [and] Ohio.”
The economic growth in Coldwater reflects statewide trends in Michigan, with recreational marijuana dispensaries grossing nearly $270 million in total sales in September 2023 alone.
Despite marijuana being legal in Michigan, Scheid said police still deal with legal issues, such as black market deals and its presence in schools.
“I know school administrators are regularly wanting to try to keep schools a safe, good learning environment, and they’re coming across more of the vaping and specifically the vaping of marijuana in our schools,” Scheid said.
Scheid also said Michigan has different laws for medicinal and recreational marijuana, which he said can be confusing for both residents and law enforcement.
“You have two kind of distinct laws and they kind of play by different rules, so that in itself, but for the police officers to kind of keep track of that and make sure they understand the difference between both can be fairly cumbersome,” Scheid said.
How Ohio Would Mirror Michigan
The proposed statute in Ohio shares many similarities to Michigan’s current laws regarding recreational marijuana.
If the statute passes, both states would tax marijuana sales at 10% on top of existing state and county sales taxes.
The statute would also grant Ohio cities the ability to decide on their own whether they would want dispensaries in their communities.
A new branch of the Ohio Department of Commerce, the Division of Cannabis Control, would also be created to oversee and regulate the industry, similar to Michigan’s Cannabis Regulatory Agency.
The Ohio Department of Commerce issued a statement to WANE 15 Friday when asked about the financial implications of legalizing recreational marijuana:
“The current focus for the Department of Commerce is the consolidation of the medical program, so it would be premature for us to weigh in on this subject. If additional changes are made through the electoral and legislative processes, the department would implement the requirements outlined in the statute and communicate more detailed information at that time.”
Since the marijuana statute would be implemented as a law, DeWine said state legislators would have the ability to change things within the statute and how it would be implemented.
According to the statute, the law would go into effect 30 days after the election if it passes, but it is unclear how or if any decisions made by state legislators would change the timeline.