Ottawa Innovations presentation before the Marijuana Selection Committee

OI Holdings, parent of Ottawa Innovations and Higher Love, presented details of its plans for a grow facilities, headquarters and retail store in Menominee in August before the Marijuana Selection Committee. Behind its poster are members of Fire Station Cannabis Co.’s legal and executive team. Fire Station received licenses for a retail store, grow permit and processing center, while Ottawa Innovations received only grow permits.

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—Attorneys for OI Holdings and Higher Love, a marijuana retailer that applied for but didn’t receive a retail license from the City of Menominee, are requesting a jury trial for a case they’re bringing against the Menominee City Council and key city employees.

Higher Love, owned by Joni Moore, is the latest among a growing number of marijuana retailers to file lawsuits against the City of Menominee and city council members for failing to provide an adult-use retail marijuana license. 

Council members spoke informally about the litigation before and after the regular city council meeting Nov. 15, when council member Dave Robinson asked his colleagues if they had been served with legal papers yet. Council member Bill Plemel replied he had. But as of Monday, Plemel said he still didn't know who would be representing city council members. 

The council did not discuss the marijuana ordinance or licenses during the most recent public meeting. Litigation involving a possible financial settlement is exempt from the state’s Open Meetings Act.

Attitude Wellness/Lume, Highwire and NU Group also are suing the city in complaints about the licensing process.  Rize, which received a license to open an adult-use recreational store where Stang Sales & Service was located on 10th Street, has filed a Motion to Intervene in at least two lawsuits, where the suing companies have asked the court to void the licenses the city has awarded.

The Fire Station Cannabis Co. also is on the side of the intervenors asking the court not to file an injunction that could block the company from opening an adult-use recreational marijuana store. On Nov. 9, The Fire Station filed a Motion to Intervene in Attitude Wellness/Lume's case.

Historically, the city hasn’t faced this many lawsuits any time recently, Menominee attorney Randall Philipps said last week. He is representing Attitude Wellness/Lume Cannabis Co. in a suit against the city. For the city to be sued by so many companies is “fairly unusual,” Philipps said. “I wouldn’t refer to this as commonplace.”

OI Holdings and Higher Love filed a civil case with the 41st Circuit Court Nov. 12. OI Holdings is the parent of Higher Love, a retail company, and Ottawa Innovations, a grow company that received adult and medical grow licenses from the city. In a video the company provides on the website oimenominee.com, Moore said OI Holdings is the only vertically integrated cannabis manufacturer and retailer in the Upper Peninsula. It planned to build a headquarters office building in Menominee.

Attorneys for Higher Love are asking the court to reverse the Marijuana Selection Committee’s scoring decisions for its applications, void the marijuana retail licenses the city has awarded and provide compensation for costs associated with the city’s errors.

The lawsuit also suggests the city’s rubric was poorly written and failed to comply with Michigan’s Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (MRTMA), which requires municipalities to award licenses in a competitive process to the best suited applicants.

The lawsuit names the following as defendants: Mayor Jean Stegeman, city council members Heather Nelson, Jacqueline Nutter, Steve Fifarek, William Plemel, Josh Jones, Dennis Klitzke, Frank Pohlmann and Doug Robinson, and the Marijuana Selection Committee members: Interim City Manager/Police Chief Brett Botbyl, former City Engineer and Public Works Director Tricia Alwin and Fire Chief Mark Petersen.

Attorneys for Higher Love cited violations of the Open Meetings Act, Michigan’s Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (MRTMA), and equal protection laws, saying the companies’ applications were treated differently from other applications.

Higher Love should have received 50 points on its adult-use retail marijuana application, but didn’t because the scoring rubric was “arbitrarily and capriciously” applied, the lawsuit said. It says the city deducted points from its application without a legitimate rationale in several areas, such as concluding health care is not a “highly regulated industry.” Moore, owner and president of Higher Love, worked as manager of Keweenaw Memorial Hospital Rehab facility for about five years.

The Marijuana Selection Committee failed to award Higher Love points for proposing to use an existing building and improve it, when it provided plans to do so, the filing said. “The plaintiffs did in fact propose to completely renovate the existing building at 3120 10th St., including the façade and landscaping, turning it into the corporate headquarters for the retail and cultivation operations” at an expected cost of $1 million, the legal filing said.

Ottawa Innovations and Higher Love have grow licenses in Humboldt Township, Crystal Falls and Republic Township and retail licenses in Crystal Falls, Marquette and Munising. Higher Love also has been approved for retail licenses in Houghton, Ironwood and Gaylord.