February 22, 2012 - What if you held a public hearing and nobody came?
That's exactly what happened to the Oxford Village Council last week as it conducted a public hearing concerning a proposed zoning ordinance amendment that would effectively prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries within the village limits because the drug is illegal under federal law.
Not one citizen came up to the podium to address the topic.
The only ones who spoke were Village Police Chief Mike Neymanowski, who noted that WJR Radio called him seeking information about the proposed ban, and Councilman Dave Bailey, who described the whole issue as an "awkward situation."
"I suppose it's inevitable in any country that has more than one level of jurisdiction – where you've got national, state, county (and) municipal jurisdictions – that change is never going to happen at all levels simultaneously," Bailey said. "So, it's kind of unavoidable that we're in this awkward situation."
Although 63 percent of Michigan voters approved a state law legalizing marijuana for medical purposes in the November 2008 election, the use of marijuana for any reason is still illegal under federal law.
The zoning ordinance language which the village council is considering for adoption would defer to federal law when it comes to the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries –businesses and other facilities that distribute or sell medical marijuana to qualified patients.
The village's proposed amendment states, "Uses for enterprises or purposes that are contrary to federal, state, local laws or ordinances are hereby expressly prohibited. This Ordinance amendment is to be given immediate effect to promote the health, safety and welfare of the community."
It's modeled after an ordinance amendment passed by the City of Livonia in fall 2009.
Under such language, medical marijuana dispensaries would be prohibited because there is no federal exception for medical marijuana. Marijuana's illegal, period.
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.
Right now, dispensaries are currently considered illegal in Michigan thanks to a court ruling last year.
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.
Before the village can adopt its proposed ordinance language banning medical marijuana dispensaries, it must first hold another public hearing at the planning commission level.
That hearing will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 6 in the village council chambers at 22 W. Burdick St. (see public notice on Page 26).
After that, council must conduct a first and second reading of the proposed amendment before the language can be voted on for adoption.
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.