Ann Arbor Officials Decide Against Making Facilities Appply for Licenses

Jacob Bell

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Ann Arbor City Council members have decided they no longer want to have licensing regulations for medical marijuana cultivation facilities.

The city still could regulate where cultivation facilities – places where medical pot is grown other than a home – can be located through the city's zoning ordinance. And licensing rules still would apply to dispensaries, the places where pot is sold.

But the council voted Monday night at the request of Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, to remove any reference to cultivation facilities from a proposed licensing ordinance.

Council members engaged in another long discussion on the topic of medical marijuana Monday night and made a number of amendments to both the licensing and zoning ordinances that have been under consideration for several months. They ultimately decided to postpone further consideration of the ordinances until their first meeting in June.

Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, expressed concerns about letting cultivation facilities go unregulated from a licensing standpoint.

Before the changes made Monday night, the proposed licensing ordinance capped the number of dispensary licenses at 20 and cultivation facility licenses at 10. The limit on the number of dispensaries allowed remains the same, but there's no longer any cap on cultivation facilities.

That was a tough call, Kunselman said.

"There's a number of things we have to be concerned about," he said. "Will we have a proliferation of cultivation facilities that are unlicensed running in our commercial and research enterprise zones? I guess we'll have to cross that bridge if it comes to us."

Despite his concerns, Kunselman said he still wants to have less regulation when it comes to medical marijuana, and he certainly doesn't want to be gathering information on caregivers that could end up in the hands of the federal government. So removing the requirement that cultivation facility owners must apply for licenses makes sense from that standpoint, he said.

Briere said she wanted to level the playing field for caregivers and not require fees and a city licensing process just because some of them want to grow someplace other than their home.

Those who grow in their homes aren't subject to to such restrictions, and Briere thought having stricter regulations on cultivation facilities would just encourage more grow operations to take flight in residential neighborhoods to avoid bureaucratic red tape.

"It became difficult for me to justify treating somebody differently because they were growing marijuana outside their home," she said. "As long as they're growing within the rules of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, they're restricted, so the same rules apply to everybody."

The council also took action Monday night to amend the zoning ordinance to put a 72-plant limit on the amount of marijuana that can be grown in a cultivation facility in Ann Arbor.

The 72-plant limit, already in place for home occupations under the zoning ordinance, comes from the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which allows registered caregivers to grow 12 plants per patient. Caregivers can grow for five patients and themselves under law.

Without adding clarification to the city's zoning ordinance, city officials said it might have been possible for multiple caregivers to grow marijuana together – possibly through a co-op structure – and have more than 72 plants under one roof. Council members expressed concerns about having such mega-grow operations in the city, with some saying it could invite the unwanted interest of federal drug enforcement officials.

Briere said she considers the zoning ordinance basically complete. One of the main issues that remains to be decided is whether a 1,000-foot perimeter around schools is needed.

The council made a number of other amendments to the zoning ordinance Monday night that Briere characterized as "a lot of nit-picky little changes." She said she wanted to remove any question that medical marijuana business owners were being singled out by the city.

"Part of what we did was make certain it was clear that the restrictions on caregivers – whether they were operating a cultivation facility or a home occupation – were the same restrictions that any other business or home occupation would face, so it wasn't a matter of singling out somebody," she said. "It's just the cost of being part of Ann Arbor."

Dispensary owner Chuck Ream, a leading voice in the medical marijuana movement in Ann Arbor, urged council members to make the restrictions as minimal as possible.

"Caregivers are already fully regulated under the state law that 79 percent of our voters approved of," he said, adding the city needs to be careful not to create a paper trail and give the feds "a list of juicy targets full of confidential information."

"Please respect the state law regarding confidentiality," he said. "You hold the lives of good people in your hands."

City Attorney Stephen Postema said some local regulation is necessary due to the vagueness of the state law on medical marijuana.

"The law deals with caregivers growing," he said. "It doesn't deal with where they're growing and other regulations that would usually be left to zoning or to the city. And therefore, as many people have said, the law is vague on this, so reasonable people can disagree on this."

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