January 18, 2012 - After delaying a decision for nearly 18 months, the Oxford Village Council last week finally made it clear how it wants to handle the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries – prohibit them.
"I don't think it has a place in the village," said Councilman Kevin Stephison. "There is no other way to do it. It doesn't fit the business model downtown to have a medical dispensary anywhere in the (Downtown Development Authority) district – zoning-wise or business-wise."
Council voted 3-0 to direct village attorney Bob Bunting to draft language that's "similar to the Livonia ordinance" and bring it back for review at the next village meeting.
In fall 2009, the City of Livonia amended its zoning ordinance to prohibit uses for enterprises or purposes that are contrary to federal, state or local laws.
Under such ordinance language, medical marijuana dispensaries – businesses or other facilities that distribute or sell medical marijuana to qualified patients – would not be permitted because under existing federal law, the use of marijuana for any reason is illegal. There is no federal exception for medical marijuana.
The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has a "high potential for abuse" and it "has no currently accepted medical use in treatment." That's why doctors cannot prescribe medical marijuana and pharmacists cannot dispense it.
"If it's not permitted by federal law, then it's not permitted," said Councilman Tony Albensi. "That's how I've always felt about it. I believe my record of voting has always been that way.
"Do we want to keep kicking it down the road? I don't think so," Albensi continued. "I don't think we should allow it, period."
Stephison agreed. "If it's federally illegal, it's illegal and it's not allowed," he said.
Stephison noted how California was one of the first states to pass a law allowing medical marijuana and "last year, the federal government came in and said, 'We don't care . . . it is illegal. You must shut down all your dispensaries.'"
Village President Tom Benner expressed his concern that allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to open up and operate in the community would do more harm than good.
"I think that we'd open up a real can of worms if we permit this," he said. "I don't know how we would control it . . . I think it would become a big problem for the police department to try to monitor it and keep it under control."
Stephison noted how the state law (Michigan Medical Marihuana Act) allowing marijuana use for medical purposes – which was approved by 63 percent of Michigan voters in November 2008 – is completely silent on the issue of dispensaries.
"In no place in that bill is the word dispensary used or even implied or alluded to in any form," he said.
Across the state, the issue of whether dispensaries are legal, has led to police raids, numerous arrests, court cases and confusion on the part of municipalities over how they should handle such facilities.
In August 2011, the three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that dispensaries are a "public nuisance" and not authorized by the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. The court ruled that any business that receives money in order to facilitate the transfer of medical marijuana is operating for a purpose other than to alleviate patients' debilitating medical conditions and is therefore not protected by state law.
An application to appeal this decision to the Michigan Supreme Court was filed last fall. It's still pending.
"I was kind of hoping the state Legislature would step up and kind of nip this in the bud before it got much further down the pike," Stephison said. "Legislatures move slower than glaciers do."
Until the village can get a zoning ordinance amendment in place which expressly prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries, council's approved motion included extending the village's moratorium "on the issuance of permits or licenses for the sale or dispensation of medical marijuana."
The moratorium was extended for six months or until the effective date of the zoning ordinance amendment. This was the third time council has voted to extend its moratorium, which was originally enacted July 27, 2010 for a six-month period. The last moratorium extension was set to expire Jan. 24.
"I would like to get this put to bed so our residents know that it's not legal (to operate a dispensary)," Benner said.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.