A city in Michigan is investing in a product that measures smell, hoping to weed out marijuana growers. A town of fewer than 2,000 people, Bessemer, Michigan has found itself dealing with numerous complaints that the entire town stinks of marijuana. The City council is hoping the Nasal Ranger will help. The Nasal Ranger is described as a "field olfactometer" for measuring the amount of ambient odor in the air, sold by St. Croix Sensory, Inc. The product's website explains, "Nasal Ranger is the “state-of-the-art” in field olfactometry for confidently measuring and quantifying odor strength in the ambient air." Recreational marijuana was legalized in Michigan in 2018, making it the tenth state in the U.S. and the first in the Midwest to do so. People 21 years or older can now have up to two-and-a-half ounces of usable marijuana.
Residents are allowed to grow as many as 12 pot plants, which must be kept out of view in a secure area. Violation of that law comes with a $500 fine. But the result in Bessemer is apparently an overwhelming stench. Law enforcement hasn't been able to investigate whether people are breaking the 12-plant limit since officers would need a warrant to search the home and count the plants. The City is hoping the Nasal Ranger helps with that. The Daily Globe first reported this story, saying the City Council in Bessemer voted to spend about $3,400 on the device, which the City's code enforcement officer will be trained to use. The City Attorney will draft an ordinance regulating the use of the Ranger. Wikileaf reached out to numerous officials with the City of Bessemer, who each refused to provide information on the subject of the Nasal Ranger, or even information on how the Council began discussing the possibility of purchasing one. In the interest of transparency - a principle the City of Bessemer does not seem to share - we have published the correspondence between the City and Wikileaf below.
Wikileaf first reached out to Kelli Stultz, the secretary for the City of Bessemer. Here is a copy of that email:
“Hello! I'm a writer for a newspaper called The Stash. I'm working on an article about the City of Bessemer's decision to invest in a Nasal Ranger. The article is purely informative, talking about the decision to purchase the device, how that was reached, and how marijuana laws in Michigan have changed over the past several years. I was hoping someone with the City or City Council could answer a few questions.
- What led to the decision to purchase a Nasal Ranger?
- Is only one device being purchased?
- Who will be responsible for operating the device?
- What are the repercussions if the Nasal Ranger shows that there is a strong smell of marijuana? Would this be used to then get a warrant to search the property the smell is coming from?
- Has Bessemer had any problem or convictions in the past for people found with more than the legal limit of marijuana plants? Thank you so much for your time!”
Stultz forwarded that email to the City Manager, Charly Loper, who replied,
“Hello Marie, The City of Bessemer doesn't have anything further to say about the Nasal Ranger. We are in the very early stages of moving forward with it and don't have any ordinances drafted at this time. Thank you.”
We felt that response was not appropriately informative, and wrote back,
“Hey Charly, thanks for getting back to me so quickly! Did you see the questions I attached? I think you should be able to answer most of them, since they deal with the discussion leading up to the decision to purchase a Nasal Ranger, rather than the results of the decision itself. For instance, since (as you mentioned) you are in the early stages of moving forward with the purchase, I still would appreciate a short statement on the problems the City of Bessemer is facing that led to the conversation about potentially purchasing a Nasal Ranger. What is going on in the city that might necessitate one? I asked who would operate the Nasal Ranger within the City. That must have been something the Council discussed before deciding to move forward. And surely there was some discussion as to what it would be used for - as in, is it meant to assist in the enforcement of city code? If so, how? Could you please write a short description when you have time of the discussion that took place in the public meeting where the decision was made? I also asked whether the City has had any problem with people owning more than the legal limit of 12 marijuana plants in the past. Thank you for your time.”
Mr. Loper responded,
“Thank you for reaching out to us. Until we are further along I am doing no more interviews. Thanks again.”
Next, Wikileaf reached out to City Councilmember Linda Nelson, who has spoken in support of the Nasal Ranger before.
Wikileaf explained the exchange held with City Manager Loper and asked if Councilmember Nelson would comment instead of writing,
While I understand that the City may not be able to answer questions about the impact the Nasal Ranger might have, my questions mostly had to do with the lead-up to the decision. Since you spoke in favor of the purchase, I was hoping you could help with the article. My main questions are:
- Could you tell me a bit about the lead-up to the decision to purchase the Nasal Ranger? What's going on in the City that called for it, and what does the City intend to use it for?
- Who does the City plan to have operate the Nasal Ranger (I understand this may be one you can't answer definitively, but perhaps you could explain the ideas the City discussed at the public Council meeting for this?)
- Has the City had any problems in the past with people owning more than the legal limit of 12 marijuana plants?
Nelson never replied. The State of Michigan's Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has a specific agency dedicated to marijuana, which claims its aim is to "establish Michigan as the national model for a regulatory program that stimulates business growth while preserving safe consumer access to marijuana." Marijuana has been available in Michigan since 2008 when voters approved medical marijuana for people with serious health issues. In 2016, that law expanded to include licensing and regulation of medical marijuana businesses. And in 2018, voters approved legalizing recreational cannabis by a 55.9% margin.