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Township reconsiders ban on medical marijuana

June 09, 2010 - The crowd at township offices rolled into a spontaneous and rare round of applause Monday as Orion Township Trustee Mark Crane stepped up to slap his two cents on the table.

In front of the board for first reading was a proposed amendment to local zoning ordinance, which, if approved, would essentially outlaw medical marijuana and related activity in the township.

"I'm opposed to this amendment, simply because in November 2008, Michigan voted on the issue, and—by pretty overwhelming numbers—adopted the proposal," said Crane, noting the vote in Orion was representative of Oakland County's overall 2-1 margin of voter approval. ("For the township to pass this amendment) looks like a backdoor effort to flat-out prohibit what voters said they want to permit."

Crane said he thought time could be better spent developing an ordinance to regulate the practice.

"For the township to pass this amendment looks like a backdoor effort to flat-out prohibit what voters said they want to permit." - Mark Crane, Orion Township Trustee
After hearing public comment, the board seemed to agree, rejecting the proposal 6-1.

Clerk Penny Shults cast the dissenting vote after her motion to pass the amendment for second reading and possible adoption died for lack of support.

In Orion, the issue of medical marijuana made its first public appearance at an April 7 planning commission meeting, when the township supervisor's asked commissioners office to draft an ordinance amendment requiring "all local zoning or land use in the township to comply with federal state and local laws."

Although planning commissioners discussed medical marijuana as related to the amendment during several meetings in April and May, the proposed language included no such reference, nor was reference made at a public hearing held by the planning commission last month, which no one attended, anyway.

But tables turned Monday as a number of residents, medical marijuana patients, business people and others addressed the board.

Lake Orion resident Joe Palermo said he hadn't seen the proposed language but correctly guessed the amendment looked similar to one adopted recently in Livonia; neither contained no specifics and both stated only that land use had to comply with federal state and local laws.

 "Are you going to pick and choose which laws to enforce, or just pick out the ones that are politically popular to hold up as pariahs?" he asked.

Palermo told the board he's a "caregiver," and provided statistics and information, and suggested the board learn more about medical marijuana and its users before making a hasty decision.

"I have no desire to conduct a criminal enterprise out of my home," he said. "That's not the intent of the law or the intent of what we're doing."

Instead, he explained, medical marijuana offers relief to chronically suffering -- often economically challenged -- patients without harsh pharmaceuticals.

But Palermo also said he supports municipal regulation -- to a point.

"Go tell someone who's sitting in a wheelchair with MS that they should go to some corner of the township you designate to grow their medicine," he said. "Step back for a second and actually meet the people you're talking about before you make judgments, before you even talk about second reading."

Numerous others, from the Orion area and surrounding communities, also expressed passionate opinions in favor of medical marijuana, and in favor of respecting the will of voters.

But one man -- Orion Township resident John Hart -- whole-heartedly expressed the opposite opinion, and warned the board against placing too much emphasis on the words of those who said 'Board, you can do better and think better if you step back.'

"You really need to step up," said Hart, who is confined to a wheelchair but said he avoids medication as much as possible.

"If there's a place designated (for medical marijuana) so be it," he said, repeatedly expressing dislike of the new law and the societal dangers he says it engenders. "I'm not going to knock everybody who says they need it and don't have it, but we're in a world where we have strip joints, marijuana parlors and beer parlors -- and we try to assume it won't hurt our children."

Hart said he believes it will.

The "Medical Marihuana Act," approved by Michigan voters on November 4, 2008, went into effect December 4, 2008, and essentially 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."

While Township Supervisor Matthew Gibb asked the planning commission to draft the first amendment, based on recommendation from Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard and Orion Township Attorney Dan Kelly, he appeared to step back after hearing from the public -- but warned he wasn't going far.

Allowing medical marijuana, he said, could create problems for the township.

 "I feel we're getting into the regulatory business and we don't have budget, staff or contractual ability to do that," Gibb said, noting enforcement of such an issue is better suited to larger funded agencies...not township budgets and governments."

Gibb also said he "might be philosophically opposed to the practice."

"But it's not our role as a government agency to be usurping the authority of the state," he said. "This needs to be severely restricted from a zoning standpoint, and should have no place in a residential area, and no place in specific retail commercial areas. It's the law, but much like other business and activity in the community, we have every right to substantially regulate the placement of operations."

Based on board instruction, the planning commission will start over to develop a new zoning amendment for board consideration.

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