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Committee looks to regulate, not prohibit med. marijuana dispensaries

June 23, 2010 - It appears businesses selling medical marijuana could face strict regulation, but not prohibition in Oxford Township.

However, it's still very early in the process and nothing's been officially decided by either the planning commission or township board.

"We have come to a consensus that we're going to find a type of zoning district that it will fit in," said Tom Berger, chairman of the ordinance review subcommittee and member of the planning commission.

Last week, the subcommittee discussed the idea of amending the zoning ordinance to deal with businesses that sell medical marijuana to registered patients, commonly known as dispensaries.

It will present its suggestions to the planning commission during the 7 p.m. Thursday, June 24 meeting at the Oxford Veterans Memorial Civic Center (28 N. Washington St.).

"We looked at a lot of options and what we're going to do is take them to the next planning commission meeting," Berger said.

Four zoning districts are being considered as possible sites for medical marijuana dispensaries – local commercial (C-1), general commercial (C-2), research-office (R-O) and light industrial (I-1).

Berger indicated the subcommittee was looking at zoning districts that contained uses such as pharmacies and other businesses that dispense or handle controlled substances.

There was talk of putting medical marijuana dispensaries in commercial districts because there's more traffic, more people and a higher level of visibility.

Industrial areas have a limited amount of traffic and "you don't always know what's going on in those areas," Berger said.

"I don't think anybody's trying to hide it, but secure it," he said.

Berger said it was also suggested at the subcommittee meeting that medical marijuana dispensaries be subject to rules similar to those the state Liquor Control Commission imposes on establishments that sell alcohol.

These rules could include such things as requiring dispensaries to be located at least 1,000 feet away from child care facilities or having them operate within certain hours of the day.

If dispensaries are allowed, Berger indicated it's "more than likely" they would be required to obtain a special use permit from the township that's subject to renewal on an annual basis.

This way if a dispensary violates the rules, the township would have the power to simply not renew its permit, effectively shutting the establishment down.

On the other hand, if a dispensary complied with all the rules and regulations, then its permit would most likely be renewed and the business could continue operating.

"I think we're (headed) in a direction to show flexibility, but with control," said Berger, who noted they wish to manage it within the bounds of state law.

Berger admitted this whole thing is unchartered territory for the township and a lot of research and discussion is required before any type of ordinance language is adopted. The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, approved by 63 percent of state voters in November 2008, isn't much help.

"The act is only seven pages long," Berger said. "It doesn't define dispensaries. It doesn't give you any procedural criteria that tells you what you have to do to maintain the integrity of one. We're kind of like shootin' off the hip."

Michigan voters approved the legal possession and use of medical marijuana by those who qualify and register with the state.

According to the Michigan Department of Community Health website, a patient or their designated primary caregiver – both of whom must be registered with the state – may grow marijuana as a result of the law, however, "there is no place in the state of Michigan to legally purchase medical marihuana."

State law requires a patient-caregiver relationship in which registered caregivers are each allowed to assist up to five patients and cultivate up to 12 plants per patient.

Under the law, caregivers "may receive compensation for costs associated with assisting" a registered patient. "Any such compensation shall not constitute the sale of controlled substances," the law states.

There is zero mention of dispensaries in the state law and apparently this gray area is being left up to communities to decide on an individual basis.

As it stands right now, if someone wanted to open up a medical marijuana dispensary in Oxford Twp., there's nothing within the local ordinances to prohibit or regulate it.

"Anybody can just go do anything they want," Berger said. "There's really not a control factor. There's nothing that regulates it right now (other than state law)."

Dispensaries have already opened in communities such as the Village of Dryden, Oak Park and Ann Arbor to name a few.

An ordinance adopted in May by Dryden's village council requires a permit to operate a dispensary, limits the hours of operation and sets a standard of no more than one dispensary for every 1,000 village residents. Dryden Village has a population of about 800 people.

In addition to dispensaries, Berger indicated the ordinance review subcommittee's also going to look at potential language to deal with places where patients gather to smoke or otherwise ingest medical marijuana.

For instance, he said the subcommittee believes sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages should not be allowed on the same premises with medical marijuana.

State law also doesn't address places where people gather to consume medical marijuana together.

These places should not be confused with Compassion Clubs, which are public meetings designed to educate patients, caregivers and communities about the various legal and technical issues related to medical marijuana.

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.
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