Gone to pot
Medical marijuana? 'Orion doesn't allow it'
June 02, 2010 - Thinking of a venture into medical marijuana now that it's legal in Michigan? Better put the idea in your pipe; it's about to go up in smoke.
The Orion Township Planning Commission recently drafted an ordinance amendment, which -- once passed by the township board of trustees -- will require all local zoning or land use in the township to comply with federal state and local laws.
"The key word there is federal," said township planning consultant Don Wortman during a meeting with Orion planning commissioners April 7.
While medical marijuana "might be legal pertaining to state law," Wortman said, the substance is still illegal under federal law.
|A number of Michigan municipalities are taking a close look at medical marijuana. Here's a sample of reactions:
•Livonia, Plymouth: Ordinance banning uses for enterprises or purposes that are contrary to federal, state or local laws or ordinances.
•Niles: Ordinance requiring plants to be grown indoors; services from caregiver to patient not within 1,000 feet of a drug-free school zone.
•Roseville, Garden City: Zoning ordinance language regulating the location of dispensaries. |
And Orion's not the first municipality looking for guidance. According to Wortman, the issue has surfaced recently in a number of his firm's other client communities, leaving building departments struggling to answer questions about paraphernalia, growing, and distributing marijuana, as well as compassionate care clubs.
For Orion, the amendment would clear up any uncertainties about what the local government will allow inside township lines.
"If the building department in Orion Township were to get a request saying 'Where could we site a medical marijuana related facility?' the answer would be 'Orion doesn't allow it because it conflicts with federal law," Wortman said.
The "Medical Marihuana Act," approved by Michigan voters on November 4, 2008, went into effect December 4 2008.
Essentially, the act allows patients with specific, debilitating medical conditions—cancer, glaucoma, or AIDS for example—to use medical marijuana for treatment of those conditions and associated symptoms, such as severe and chronic pain, severe nausea or seizures.
But according to the Michigan Municipal League, key elements are missing from the legislation.
How will medical marijuana will be dispensed, for example?
"Other places that have adopted medical marijuana laws have adopted some specific and detailed standards," said Orion Township Attorney Dan Kelly. "Michigan has some, but in terms of how it's going to be implemented and enforced, there wasn't much guidance from the state."
And, he added, the state never addressed the reason Orion says it's amending its ordinance in the first place.
"(The amendment) has been interpreted by medical marijuana groups as some kind of a restriction on medical marijuana," Kelly said. "Basically, all it says, though, is you can't violate any law, including federal law, and marijuana is still illegal federally. How it's going to be interpreted or played out in the future, we don't know yet"
"Possession of marijuana is a federal crime, so they're not going to allow any businesses," said Matthew Abel, a Michigan attorney known for defending criminal charges in medical marijuana cases. "But that can't stop you from being a patient and probably can't stop you from being a caregiver."
Abel, who has at least one Orion Township client, said the amendment is a veiled attempt to keep medical marijuana away.
"It's only veiled because it doesn't include the word marijuana," he said. "It seems directed at keeping marijuana businesses out of the community, which I think is a short sighted way to look at it," he said. "Medical marijuana is here to stay. The communities that embrace it and regulate it in an appropriate manner will be most satisfied with the results. Once you try to ban it or fail to regulate it are going to be unhappy down the road."
And, Abel noted, Michigan could benefit from the potential revitalization.
"Medical marijuana is putting a lot of people to work, he said, ticking off a list: Electricians, botanists, lawyers, accountants, plumbers, educators, clerks. "It has ripple effects. It's a huge industry and it's growing like crazy."
Although the words 'medical marijuana' were never uttered at a May 19 public hearing on the issue, the planning commission discussed the issue during a number of meetings in April and May.
Text amendment to Zoning Ordinance No. 78, Article III, Compliance with Federal, State, and Local Laws passed the planning commission by a 4-0 vote.
The amendment now goes to the township board for approval.
Lake Orion Review Editor