Officials considering ordinance for medical marijuana facilities

By LISA BOWERS Journal Ishpeming Bureau NEGAUNEE – After months of consideration and requests for public input, Negaunee Township may be closer to deciding whether licensed medical marijuana businesses will have a place there. At its regular meeting Tuesday, the Negaunee Township Planning Commission scheduled a joint meeting with the Negaunee Township Board within the next month to discuss whether to craft an ordinance that would allow medical marijuana facilities to operate within township jurisdiction under the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act, a packet of Michigan laws that will go into effect Dec. 15. “Ultimately, the result of the meeting was to request a joint meeting with the township board, some time in October to discuss and hopefully decide whether to opt in or opt out of allowing licenses in the township,” Negaunee Township Planning Administrator Nick Leach said. Under the new set of laws, medical marijuana facilities would be subject to a licensing scheme similar to that of liquor licenses, Leach said. The MMFLA, consisting of Public Acts 281, 282 and 283 of 2016 clarifies and adds to the state’s 2008 voter-approved Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, according to a Michigan Municipal League fact sheet. Other actions include legalizing marijuana-infused products for medicinal use; create a “seed-to-sale” tracking system to ensure marijuana dispensed to patients has been tested for safety; and creating a medical marijuana excise fund in the state treasury that will allocate revenue from fees, fines and charges to local units of government and law enforcement, the fact sheet states. The laws technically went into effect Dec. 20, 2016, but included an additional delay in the implementation to enable the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to establish the licensing system required by the act. MMFLA will allow municipalities to regulate the location and number of medical marijuana growers, processors, provisioning centers, secure transporters and safety compliance facilities within their boundaries. It does not require a state license to operate as a primary caregiver under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, nor does it allow municipalities to prohibit operation as a primary caregiver, the fact sheet states. Under the law no one can apply to the state for a license of any kind under MMFLA until Dec. 15 and no one can apply for a state license unless the municipality has adopted an ordinance adopting that type of facility. “A municipality that wishes to allow these facilities must enact an ordinance specifically authorizing them,” the fact sheet states. “If the municipality takes no action, none of the facilities are allowed.” According to a Sept. 10 MLive article, several communities around the state are in the process of considering or enacting ordinances, with Lansing being the latest city to approve local regulations. The Lansing ordinance caps dispensaries at 25 in the city and requires a $5,000 local license fee with application. Negaunee Township is the only municipality in Marquette County to consider such an ordinance, Leach said. He cited months of research on the new laws as well as two public forums to collect residents’ feedback on the matter as a basis for consideration. “We are still at the very first stages of this process,” Leach said. Planning Commissioner Gary Wommer, who is also a Negaunee Township Board member, said officials are not pushing for or against a medical marijuana ordinance. “We have no leaning whatsoever, we are just trying to gather all the information that we can,” Wommer said. “At the same time, it would be irresponsible not to at least consider it. Even if you keep these facilities out of Negaunee Township, out of Marquette County, obviously people are going to buy what they need, they are going to buy it somewhere,” Wommer said. Although state licenses will still have to be acquired, Wommer said the type and number of medical marijuana based licenses issued within a certain municipality ultimately rests with the local government. “Not only can we say what kind of these types of businesses we want in the township, but we can limit how many,” Wommer said. The law authorizes municipalities to charge an annual fee of up to $5,000 on licensed marijuana facilities to defray administrative and enforcement costs. Wommer said although the potential increase in annual revenue created by the licenses would be considered by township officials, it would not be the deciding factor in whether to allow the facilities. “We are not going to start something like this just because of the money that we can get back out of it,” Wommer said. “We are more interested in people’s health and welfare and what our township looks like than the dollars and cents.” Leach said feedback at the public forum on Sept. 13, which was attended by dozens of local caregivers, allowed the planning commission to move forward. During the forum, Clay Hidding, a licensed caregiver from Marquette said allowing medical marijuana distributors locally would help both patients and caregivers find a legal supply. “I would not be someone who would be applying for or getting one of these licenses. But I just wanted to express how important I think it is that you consider this,” Hidding said. “I think giving this a legal framework will make things a lot safer and will encourage people to do this responsibly. I think it’s ridiculous for someone who has an illness to have to go out on the street and ask around. There is no clear way for these patients to find their medicine right now.” Forsyth Township resident and medical marijuana patient Ron Pihlainen, said he benefitted from the use of medical marijuana during cancer treatment. In addition, it helped him with overcoming opioid addiction. “I have used it myself,” he said. “I know that it heals many people. I want to give you credit because you are smart enough to think about it.” Shannon Banner, manager of the Michigan State Police public affairs section, said her organization could not comment on any impacts the new laws might have on law enforcement until the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board establishes all the rules associated with it’s implementation. “The new laws that will govern provisioning centers as part of the Medical Marihuana Facility Licensing Act are being determined by LARA and the newly appointed Medical Marihuana Licensing Board,” Banner said in an email. “At this point the rules are still being developed, so I cannot offer you a law enforcement perspective.” Numerous local law enforcement agencies were contacted for comment, but none was provided prior to press time. Marijuana remains illegal on the federal level. It is classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 1 drug. The Schedule 1 designation means marijuana is defined by the 1970 Controlled Substances Act as a drug that has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use in the United States. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD and ecstasy. Medical Marijuana is currently legal in 29 states. The joint meeting of the Negaunee Township Board and the Negaunee Township Planning Commission will likely take place some time in October and will be open to the public. Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.