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Public opinion mixed on medical pot facilities

September 15, 2010 - One would expect a public discussion on the topic of medical marijuana facilities to be heated and lengthy.

But it was the exact opposite last week as citizens gave their input on the subject to the Oxford Village Planning Commission. Most speakers kept within the three-minute time limit and all were polite.

"Being given a place for patients and caregivers to go in safety is extremely needed," said Chris Gault, of Waterford.

"I don't want it in Oxford," said village resident Robert Scott. "There's probably good reasons why it should be and good reasons why it shouldn't be. But I lean toward not having it in Oxford. That's my opinion."

Planning commissioners have been charged with creating a zoning ordinance amendment that covers the production, distribution and sale of medical marijuana in the village.

On July 27, the village council placed a moratorium on "the issuance of permits and 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.

Commission Vice-Chair Don Silvester indicated he was going to approach the village council to ascertain exactly what the elected officials are looking for, so the planning commission can proceed along that path.

"We've been tasked with making an ordinance and not really being told which direction to go in," he said.

Public opinion on the subject was mixed.

"I really am opposed to having a clinic here in Oxford," said village resident Jeri Scott.

Waterford resident Suzette Bailey, a registered medical marijuana patient who spoke from her wheelchair, told commissioners of the drug's personal value to her.

"When I take my medicine, my pain goes away to the point where I can function with my children (and) I can function in my household," she said.

Village resident Merle Smith didn't challenge the value of medical marijuana, but he did express concern about having facilities related to its growth and dispensing here in town.

"I'm not here to question the use of medical marijuana for patients," he said. "I am concerned with it being here in Oxford. I would urge (planning commission) members to look at other communities where such dispensaries exist and what problems occur."

Smith noted that last summer he visited San Francisco, California, another state where medical marijuana is also legal, and "what I saw I did not want here in the Village of Oxford."

Orion resident Michael Mahan, who hopes to open a medical marijuana-related business in Oxford, told commissioners he believes such facilities should be located in zoning districts where other medical facilities are currently located and permitted.

"It's no different – it's medicine, it's medical," said Mahan, who is a state-registered medical marijuana patient and caregiver.

Mahan urged commissioners to consider placing regulations on medical marijuana operations such as requiring a certain percentage of the drug be cultivated by the caregivers who run the facility and not obtained "secondhand" from other sources.

He also believes alcohol should be prohibited from such facilities and the only time people under the age of 18 should be allowed in is if they're a state-registered patient and they're accompanied by a parent, guardian or caregiver.

Lake Orion resident Andrew Sester was in favor of regulating medical marijuana facilities and allowing them in zoning where medical uses are currently permitted.

Village resident Jan Dean asked the commission to look "very carefully" at "how close" these facilities, if permitted, would be to residential areas. "I just would like you to be very cautious of that," she said.

Dean pointed out that The Kind Tree: An Organic Wellness Center, a proposed medical marijuana dispensary located at 109 N. Washington St., is "right on the edge" of a residential area.

Village Councilman Dave Bailey noted he lives next door to The Kind Tree and he doesn't have a problem with it.

"I can understand how some other person in a residential district might object," he said. "I'm just saying at least some residents would not object because I know I am one of them that would not."

Village resident Tim Davidson, a pharmacist who owns Patterson Prescription Pharmacy in downtown Oxford, encouraged the planning commission to learn more about the state law and rules concerning medical marijuana.

"I urge the members of the commission to be as familiar as possible (with) the conditions of these laws when trying to determine the best location, if it is a permissible act in the village," he said.

Davidson noted he has more questions about the law than opinions. "I don't question patients' needs and legitimate uses for medical marijuana," he explained. "I question the way the law is written (as to whether) there's any legal sale of medical marijuana."

Chuck Schneider, who owns numerous commercial properties in the village and sits on the Downtown Development Authority board, advised commissioners to review Ferndale's ordinance concerning medical marijuana facilities and the zoning districts in which they're placed. He called the ordinance a "pretty sensible approach."

Planning Commissioner John DuVal assured Schneider the board had a copy of Ferndale's ordinance along with ordinances from Livonia, Niles, Grand Rapids and many other communities. "We have received probably an inch-and-a-half to two inches of information and we'll go through every page of it," he said.

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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