MI: Confusion Delays Vote On Portage Medical Marijuana

Photo Credit: Malachi Barrett

Confusion among the Portage City Council delayed a vote on two long-anticipated medical marijuana ordinances.

Tuesday, the City Council was scheduled to vote on amendments to ordinances to allow five types of medical marijuana facilities to operate. But council members saw holes in the ordinances and felt more discussion was necessary before making a decision.

A first reading of the ordinance sparked a long discussion and a few revisions on Jan. 24. A series of changes followed, and Councilman Terry Urban said the version of the ordinances he was given Tuesday night didn’t line up with a version given to him the day before.

“I don’t feel I know what the hell we’re doing tonight,” Urban said.

Other council members agreed that some of the ordinance language should be adjusted in regard to separation from religious properties in zones that would allow medical marijuana.

City Manager Larry Shaffer said staff have been wrestling with the ordinances for 3-4 months, but they keep finding holes in the documents’ language. Still, he said the issues over details discussed Tuesday were minor.

“Preparing this ordinance is like covering queen-size bed with full-size sheet,” he said. “Every time we think we have it covered (we find ourselves) exposed to another issue.”

The amendments establish how applicants earn annual permits for the businesses and where they can be located. The council still held a regularly scheduled public hearing, which will be kept as testimony when the ordinance comes back on March 13.

Shaffer said the ordinance won’t change substantially by then.

Mayor Patricia Randall expressed frustration that the process remains stalled. Portage was a leader, she said, now the city has been kicking the can down the road.

Randall said the discussion has moved beyond the point of hearing anecdotal testimony on both sides of the medical marijuana debate. Still, a few residents were fearful that allowing the facilities would degrade the quality of life for residents.

Others said the ordinances ensure patients have a well-regulated place to obtain prescribed medicine. Proponents of the ordinance said they are restrictive enough to make sure the city isn’t swarmed with dispensaries.

The ordinances authorize medical marijuana growers, processors, secure transporters, provisioning centers and safety compliance facilities to open. They do not set a limit on the number, instead using zoning and buffers to set a soft cap.

Provisioning centers would be allowed to operate in B-3 general business districts. Growers, processors, secure processors and safety compliance facilities would be permitted to operate in I-1 light industrial districts and I-2 heavy industrial districts.

Entrepreneurs must first receive a permit from the Portage city clerk after obtaining a license from the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Provisional permits can be issued, which give applicants six months to obtain a state license.

Permits would be issued during a specific part of the year, to be designated by the city manager. An applicant would pay a nonrefundable fee and have proof that they own or will have possession of the property where a facility is proposed.

Three types of licenses are available for growers, which allow different numbers of plants; class A – up to 500 plants; class B – up to 1,000 plants; and class C – up to 1,500 plants.

The state allows applicants to stack class C licenses for larger grow operations. Portage would require those seeking multiple class C licenses to submit separate permits to the city.

Facilities are subject to inspection by the city before opening and periodically afterward.

Applications are quite thorough. They require detailed information including plans regarding background checks, security, how marijuana product will be handled, waste water, plant waste disposal, air quality, and pest prevention, among others.

Provisioning centers are required to stay 500 feet from one another. Growers have to stay 1,000 feet away from other grower facilities.

If applicants are seeking to place facilities too close to each other, the city manager would conduct a lottery to determine which receives a permit.

All facilities are required to stay 125 feet from a residential zoning district and 1,000 feet from public playgrounds, pools, recreation areas and parks, public housing, religious institutions, vocational schools, colleges or universities, state-licensed child care or preschool centers, youth centers, half-way houses, rehabilitation centers and correctional facilities.

Under the ordinance, the buffer zone doesn’t apply to religious institutions located in a B-3, I-1, or I-2 zoning districts. Shaffer said this was due to concern that a faith organization could move next to a previously established medical marijuana facility and cause the facility to lose its permit.

In 2011, the city adopted an ordinance that allows primary caregivers to grow and distribute medical marijuana on behalf of registered patients.

Caregivers will still be allowed to continue providing marijuana.