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Village PC wants public input on med. marijuana

August 11, 2010 - Before the Oxford Village Planning Commission makes any recommendations regarding the future of medical marijuana facilities in the community, it wants to hear what the public has to say.

"I think we need to get all of the information before we set off in a direction," said Commissioner Don Silvester.

That's why the commission is inviting the public to attend its 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7 meeting in the village council chambers (22 W. Burdick St.) and participate in an open discussion regarding the issue.

"We could do months worth of work here and if we don't consult with the general public, (who) we are here to represent, than we've done something wrong," said Commissioner Steve Allen.

In order to give the planning commission some time to address the issue, the village council on July 27 approved a moratorium on "the issuance of permits or licenses for the sale or dispensation of medical marijuana" for a period of six months or until the effective date of a zoning ordinance amendment covering such uses.

Opinions expressed by planning commissioners during their Aug. 3 meeting were mixed and somewhat wordy.

"I am not in favor of disallowing it in the community," Allen said. "I am in favor of regulating it. I am not, however, in favor of even entertaining the idea of making it a home business and bringing it into the residential sections of Oxford . . . We need to regulate it intelligently and we need to figure out where the best place to have it is."

"I don't want it period, but my opinion is only one opinion of many people in a community," said Commissioner Bryan Cloutier. "Just because I don't want it doesn't mean that I think the law should prohibit it."

"I feel if we have the appropriate individuals' input (such as law enforcement), I'm on board with whatever the commission wants," Cloutier noted.

Commissioner John DuVal's sentiments weren't as complex. "I don't have an opinion one way or another," he said.

Amy Chesnut, who represents the village's planner McKenna Associates Inc., indicated the general consensus among the community planners, lawyers and law enforcement officials who participate in symposiums on the subject is that prohibition "might not be the best approach."

The feeling is it's only a matter of time before bans, like the one enacted in Livonia last fall, are challenged in court, she said.

Chesnut noted the American Civil Liberties Union has already sent letters to communities that have prohibited medical marijuana facilities asking them to reconsider.

"The best approach might be to regulate it and figure out what would be acceptable," she said.

If the village chose to regulate them, Chesnut said it would have to decide which zoning district or districts to place them in.

It would have to look at where to place the different uses related to medical marijuana such as sales/dispensing, growing and warehousing/storage.

Madonna Van Fossen, director of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), said the village has to ask itself, "Is this something that we really want to bring into Oxford when they're having issues with it in Colorado and California?"

"Is this something really that the public of Oxford wants to have in their backyard?" she said. "I'm not making any judgments of right or wrong."

She believes the issue merits much discussion, public input and time before any decisions are made.

There's also the issue of how allowing medical marijuana facilities would affect the DDA's "vision" of making downtown Oxford a destination for shopping, dining and entertainment.

"Coming to Oxford, Michigan for your medical marijuana isn't necessarily a fit in the DDA district," Van Fossen said.

DDA Board Member Chuck Schneider, who owns several buildings in the district, offered a different perspective.

"Our vision may be to have restaurants and so forth, but in reality, if you want to take a count, I can tell you we got way more medical facilities and way more doctors than we have restaurants," he said.

Schneider advised the commissioners to keep in mind that these are medical facilities, not "a tattoo parlor," that serve sick people who need their products and services.

"This is a medical application for a medical reason," he said. "I may be oversimplifying, but a medical application goes in zoning where medical applications are currently being used. I don't see how that's complicated."

Even though the legalization of medical marijuana was approved statewide by 63 percent of voters, there was some question as to how Oxford residents voted on the issue back in the November 2008 election.

Oxford Township voters approved the legalization by a margin of 6,377 to 3,744, according to Clerk Curtis Wright. That works out to 63.01 percent approval.

The issue passed in all seven township precincts including Precinct #1, which encompasses the entire village and only the village.

Village voters approved it 852 to 367.

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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