July 14, 2020

Plenty of Booze, No Pot

By Stephen Tuttle | Nov. 24, 2018

The Traverse City City Commission will be considering a new fee for establishments with liquor licenses. It is, they claim, an effort to offset nearly $300,000 in annual costs associated with alcohol-related incidents. In fact, according to City Manager Marty Colburn, fully half of police activities involve alcohol-related incidents. 
How do you suppose such a thing happened? How was it our fair little city became awash in alcohol? 
Maybe it's because the City Commission and their bosses over at the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) facilitated it in the name of progress and, since 2006, redevelopment. 
Traverse City received a whopping 265 redevelopment liquor licenses, restricted to downtown and The Commons. They're about a quarter the cost of a standard liquor license; they can't be sold or transferred, so they aren't a true business asset; and the 20 establishments that have received them have to stop serving at midnight. That's in addition to the 65 traditional liquor licenses within the city limits. 
We've created the problem, and now we'd like the people we've allowed — even encouraged — to provide alcohol to give the city more money. Here, go sell liquor. Now you're a problem — pay up.
The establishments that might soon be on the hook for an extra $1,500 or more annually barely had a choice. The city has created a kind of liquor license arms race; you better get one or you'll surely be left behind. It seems our locals and visitors make choices based on alcohol availability, not food. Since everybody wants booze, it's smart business to provide booze. It can be a significant profit center for restaurants who can realize huge markups on liquor sales. 
Maybe this is a swell idea on which we could expand. If those selling alcohol at the retail level have to pay, why not the wholesalers and distributors? Surely they are equally culpable.
And why restrict our newfound source of fees to only alcohol? For years we've been hearing about the opioid epidemic. Since much of it involves prescribed medications, we better ask the pharmacies to pay a fee; they're the drug providers. Doctors, too.  They're writing the prescriptions, so let’s slap a fee on them. 
Not to mention guns. Another fee for gun sellers! It also seems like vehicles cause a lot of trouble, and we have plenty of cars here, so there's another income stream for the city. 
Establishments that serve alcohol pay a significant amount for their license: up to $85,000 for a traditional license (which can be sold for profit or transferred), or $20,000 for the more restrictive redevelopment license. They pay an initial fee to the city when they receive their license, they pay their taxes, and if they're located downtown, those taxes are not insignificant. 
We've apparently decided alcohol is a key component of local culture. Now we'd like businesses to pay more for providing that alcohol we've permitted them to serve. If alcohol is a problem, more fee income isn't likely the solution.
If the city can draw a direct line between an alcohol-related incident and the establishment that provided that alcohol, fines or restrictions or license suspension seems perfectly logical. Slapping new fees on all license-holders on the off chance they might be part of the problem is not. 
Meanwhile, the city also will be considering locations for medical marijuana dispensaries. ‘Not downtown’ seems to be their intent. 
One commissioner said she didn't want downtown to become a “green mile.” Was that being considered? Was there a proposal to allow unlimited dispensaries downtown the rest of us missed? It does seem there might have been a happy medium somewhere between the delusional green mile and no dispensaries at all downtown, but … no.
You see, the DDA decided they didn't want such facilities to besmirch their downtown. Liquor providers that also sell food are fine but not medical marijuana. The DDA's portfolio already includes downtown, Old Town, a good chunk of Eighth Street, parking, redevelopment liquor licenses, the farmers' market, and now, apparently, the location of medical marijuana dispensaries. 
Do other states have a history of criminal trouble at dispensaries? Have other downtowns been devalued by their presence? Medical marijuana patients are not stoners lining up for some weed, which they'll light up on the street, and then wander aimlessly. They aren't dirty bums who will taint the DDA's precious downtown any more than those who entered Petertyl's for a prescription were. 
Perhaps if the marijuana dispensaries also sold alcohol, the DDA and City Commission would be more receptive.
The DDA did a fine job of helping revitalize what once was a struggling downtown, and it does a fine job helping improve it now. But the group’s ever-expanding sphere of influence has become a bit much. We'd like the people we elected to do the leading and the deciding.   


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