MENOMINEE, Mich. (WJMN) — Today marks one week since three of the five newly-opened dispensaries in Menominee were closed after a judge’s order sent police officers to Lume, Higher Love and Nirvana, ordering employees to shut the stores down immediately.

Now, over 70 employees who helped open those stores just weeks ago are left searching for a way to make ends meet.

The store manager of the new Lume location says it was one of the hardest days he’s had on the job. “I have 30, almost 30 employees and was planning on hiring another 10 to 15,” said Steven Schilly, “and to tell those almost 30 people that ‘I don’t have work for you to do right now,’ was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a store manager. There were a lot of tears shed. People were very upset.”

Morgan Gignac was working behind the counter at Nirvana when their location was shut down on Friday. “And so, what exactly happened was we were all, you know, doing our transactions and stuff, and then all of a sudden we got swarmed with people. And I was just like, ‘What? What’s going on?’ We never been this busy before. And then they were like, ‘Oh, yeah, all the other dispensaries are shutting down. The cops are going there and shutting them down.'”

Gignac continued, saying, “I’m like, ‘What?’ All of a sudden my manager comes in and he’s like, ‘Everybody needs to stop transactions right now and everybody needs to leave, including the employees and the customers.’ And then I look up at our window and there’s two police officers standing at the desk.” She’s a mother of two, who had plans to move with her fiancé to Green Bay before the shutdown cast its shadow over their finances.

We’re told Lume is offering shifts at other locations for employees who can make the long commute, and Schilly says others are filing for unemployment. However, unemployment benefits are likely only an option for a small minority of those workers, given how long you have to be working to be eligible for benefits.

“I don’t think anybody that started working at the Menominee store could apply for unemployment through [Nirvana] because we’ve only been open for a month,” said Gignac.

As the former budtenders try to keep their bills paid and food on the table, Higher Love offers a sign to customers on their door, reading:

Rize and the Fire Station have obtained a Temporary Restraining Order against the city, affecting Higher Love, Lume, and Nirvana. We are unable to be open until further notified.

A Facebook post by the company further pins blame on the plaintiffs for why their employees are out of luck, and new customers have to go elsewhere. A section of the post reads, “We appreciate your support in the face of this unforeseen challenge and would encourage you to show it by avoiding stores who would deny others access to our favorite plant.”

On the other side, a lawyer for Rize places the blame squarely on the people who hired those employees in the first place.

“I’ve heard [Higher Love] made allegations that we’re responsible for people losing their jobs, and that’s just an utter lie,” said Attorney Mike Cox. “That’s complete B.S.. The judge told them not to open, and they opened. They hired people knowing that they were violating the law, and when the judge shut them down. They’re trying to blame us, and nothing could be further from the truth.”

It is true Rize and the Fire Station did ask Judge Barglind to shut those businesses down. In fact, they pushed for that as early as August when the companies first filed their lawsuits.

To get some perspective on their accusations, we should go back to what brought them to the courtroom in the first place. While the details get murky very quickly, the quick footnotes are these:

  • In 2021, two dispensaries were picked out of over a dozen to be awarded the city’s (at the time) only marijuana business licenses.
  • Within a few days, a handful of the losing applicants (with Lume, Higher Love and Nirvana among them) promptly sued the city in an effort to get their own stores open there. Soon after, a filing from those companies prevented Rize and the Fire station from opening, while the court heard arguments over the next year and a half.
  • In May of this year, Judge Barglind threw out that case, paving the way for a Rize and the Fire Station to finally open up shop.
  • Around the same time, the city council voted to settle that first lawsuit. Despite having won the case, the deal they made was that the city would eliminate limits on marijuana business permits and the companies would foot the legal fees if the city was sued over it.
  • Over the summer, the ordinance was changed, Rize and the Fire Station opened up, and Higher Love, Lume and Nirvana got the permits they were after.

That brings us to August 2023, and to the two lawsuits brought by Rize and the Fire Station.

The lawsuit filed in state court says the city had among other things, violated the Open Meetings Act. While the city’s mayor said the violation was a simple failing to call roll, the accusations seemed to go further than that.

“It’s a slew a pattern of avoiding doing important government work in front of the public,” said Cox. “You know, they had a series of special meetings where they post notice within 36 hours they violated rules there. They talked about things in closed session, which they shouldn’t talk about.”

Judge Barglind was swayed enough by the evidence that she ordered an injunction on Sept. 26, acting with the same purpose as the one she ordered in 2021, then in favor of Lume and the other failed applicants: trying to freeze the business developments because irreparable harm could be caused.

When it comes to who is to blame for the fate of people like Gignac, Cox says the owner of Lume, Higher Love and Nirvana likely knew they were hiring people for jobs that weren’t guaranteed. “Essentially, yes. Judge Barglind, the judge in Menominee, she’s been there for 25 years. She’s well respected,” Cox said. “She didn’t act rashly, this was the outcome of litigation that’s been ongoing for really two years. And, you know, the people who hired the store manager, they really ought to be ashamed of themselves because they knew that the judge was likely to shut them down.”

So then the question is, why are employees saying these closings came in such a shock? And when if ever, did the companies talk seriously with their employees about how the lawsuit could affect them?

When asked if he had ever had a conversation about the lawsuit with his employees Lume’s Menominee store manager said, “well, that’s a great question. But since I’m not a lawyer, I kind of let them handle all that legal stuff. I don’t really try to answer too many of those questions for the customers or the employees.”

The situation doesn’t sound much different.

“I think it actually was probably a week before we got shut down,” said Gignac on when she had heard anything about the lawsuit from Nirvana management. “So they don’t really they didn’t really keep us updated about anything that was going on. The only person I knew was probably the store managers, the district manager and the attorney.”

“And, you know, the people who hired the store manager,” said Cox, “they really ought to be ashamed of themselves because they knew that the judge was likely to shut them down.”

We asked Schilly if in hindsight he wished he had said more to his employees so they could have been better prepared. “That’s a great question. I don’t like to ever look on the past and think, ‘Oh, I regret this, or I want to change that.’ Not to mention my staff, I think with the way they were keeping up on the news and that information, they knew that we were in the middle of a fight. And so their main goal and my main goal has always been to show that we’re the best, that we’re the best around and as long as we’re demonstrating that we have the best quality product and the best quality products, what reason would they ever have to shut us down?”

“This is really a function of millionaire owners lying to their employees and blaming another company for what they did wrong,” said Cox.

Before the end of our interview, Schilly offered this sentiment. “One thing I can tell you about the legal side… what a lot of people forget is when they see these lawsuits come through, they see or they hear another story. They don’t establish a face with that name. It’s like a faceless corporation. And what they don’t realize is behind that faceless corporation, those 30 employees who are now basically out of work, they’re trying to go to work, they’re trying to make money, they’re trying to support their family. And now they can’t. And so these lawsuits, that’s that’s who they hurt the most.”

While lawyers are playing the blame game in the courtroom, others are just looking for hope in any direction they can find it. Gignac describes the reaction of another Nirvana employee after the police officers shut the store down. “[My] coworker next to me burst out in tears because she’s like, ‘I just like I left my job for this and I was hoping it would last longer. And I can’t get that position back because they already replaced me.’ And I’m just like, you know, that that really sucks. And I wish they would have said something beforehand because like I mentioned before, a lot of us are parents. Like, we have kids to care for.”

A surprise hearing to discuss the Temporary Restraining Order lasting over four hours yielded no clear answers Friday night. Hearings will continue through next Wednesday, when a decision on whether the order will be lifted or extended could be announced.