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City Delays Medical Marijuana Decision

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Fearing potential lawsuits, the City of Hillsdale Planning Commission decided Tuesday night to recommend a six-month extension of the moratorium on medical marijuana regulations.

This is the second time that the city has pressed pause on medical marijuana. The original six-month moratorium expires on April 5, the day after the city council's next scheduled meeting, where they will vote on the new moratorium.

Many municipalities in Michigan have faced lawsuits, including one filed by American Civil Liberties Union, from disgruntled patients alleging that cities were attempting to regulate medical marijuana out of their limits. Plaintiffs said the cities enacted ordinances that essentially ban the growth or usage of medical marijuana in their communities, contrary to the 2008 state law that allowed licensed medical marijuana usage.

"The No. 1 issue is interpretation of the act," Planning Committee Chairman Brian Watkins said. "The main problem is that the legislation is poorly crafted. The whole thing is incredibly vague."

The Planning Commission's responsibility, according to Debra Sikorski, assessor and planning and zoning administrator, is to cite the location of different types of uses for medical marijuana, clarifying the state law for the city specifically.

"According to statute, there's a primary caregiver and a primary patient and a dispensary, and it's up to the commission to determine where those would be located and where they should be, what would be the least disturbing to other people," she said.

The commission is attempting to deter the opening of what they consider distasteful businesses in protected areas.

"It'd be like me trying to open up a Percocet store," Watkins said. "A lot of municipalities have legitimate businesses where growers are a part of the community and care about their area, but others seem to take it as a 'Ha ha look what we can do legally now' with pot-leaf signs everywhere. We don't want it to change the look or the feel of the area."

The city is mulling over several regulatory options, many modeled after attempts at regulation by other municipalities in the state. One such model follows the city of Grand Rapids, which uses a residential system allowing for caregivers and qualifying patients to operate out of their homes but disallows dispensaries, signs, co-ops and collectives, or commercial zoning for medical-marijuana-related businesses like head shops. After an inspection, a caregiver can sell to two patients a day and five a week out of their home.

This plan would consider and regulate marijuana-related businesses similarly to adult entertainment, an industry that is considered legal but not viewed "as a mainstream thing," according to Watkins.

"The community doesn't want it willy-nilly anywhere," Watkins said. "Zoning for dispensaries similar to adult entertainment would mean restricting it from residential areas, and restricting it from the vicinity of schools and churches."

According to members of the Planning Commission, this system allows for community accountability and would keep the marijuana out of downtown.

"Even then [with the Grand Rapids plan], you would still have five people coming and going from this house for a business transaction," Sikorski said. "It's probably the most debated issue we've dealt with."

As a result, the commission is carefully considering all of the options, including dividing the city into specific districts where people can grow and sell.

Growers and patients are licensed by the state, not the city. Christopher Gutowski, director of public safety said he is also waiting to see how lawsuits in other municipalities worked out before deciding whether the city should expand on the state's licensing procedures.

"We haven't run across any situations with someone with a legal card - - people who are licensed - involved in crime or driving under the influence," he said.

Once the lawsuits are decided, he said, the Commission of Public Safety would have to make a determination about how to identify legal growers and patients.

"We don't know who's card carrying and who's not. We don't have exposure to that so we don't know if it's a good card or not, even if we inquired," he said.

All this ambiguity stems from the legislation passed in 2008 by Michigan voters. The law allows physicians to approve the use of marijuana for registered patients with "debilitating" medical conditions including HIV, multiple sclerosis and other approved conditions. The state permits registered caregivers to grow 12 plants per patient. Rather than growing for themselves, patients can request a primary caregiver to grow for them and up to five other patients.

Watkins said the Planning Commission would continue to work on the subject, and request a lot of community input in the next six months.

"We will continue working; we don't want to sit on our hands. We want to make sure we protect property rights but control what happens in an expected way," he said. "The next meeting we're dedicating 90 percent of it to medical marijuana."

NewsHawk: Jim Behr: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: Collegian (Hillsdale College, MI, Edu)
Copyright: 2011 The Collegian
Contact: collegian@hillsdale.edu
Website: City Delays Medical Marijuana Decision
Details: MAP: Media Directory
Author: Joel Pavelski
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