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PC tweaks medical marijuana ordinance



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September 29, 2010 - A few alterations were suggested and now Oxford Township's proposed ordinance to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries is ready for the next step in the approval process.

Last week, the township planning commission voted 6-0 to allow the draft ordinance (see highlights on Page 19) to go forward for a public hearing once the changes are made and an attorney's reviewed it.

This public hearing will most likely take place at either the Oct. 28 or Nov. 11 planning commission meeting.

The biggest change planning commissioners made was to eliminate proposed language that would have required folks applying to operate a dispensary to show the township their "registration identification card," a state-issued credential that proves they're a "primary caregiver."

Commissioner Kallie Roesner raised the point that this was basically asking people for information that's "confidential and privileged" by law.

"You don't have to disclose that to anybody," she said. "It's like telling someone you have to say the name of their doctor."

According to the administrative rules posted on the Michigan Department of Community Health website, "Michigan medical marijuana program information shall be confidential and not subject to disclosure in any form or manner."

The department is allowed to tell law enforcement personnel, upon request, whether or not a registry identification card is valid, but it must be done "without disclosing more information than is reasonably necessary to verify the authenticity."

Roesner likened dispensary operators to pharmacists, whose licensing is handled by the state. "We don't require a pharmacist to give us a copy of his license to operate in Oxford," she said.

Whether or not a primary caregiver is state-registered is between that person, the Michigan Department of Community Health and the patient or patients they assist, according to Roesner. It doesn't involve the township.

But Commissioner Tom Berger pointed out that pharmacists prominently display their licenses in their places of business. "There's no denying it," he said. "You put it right out in open public view."

Roesner indicated the difference is the state requires pharmacists to display their licenses for everyone to see. There's no such requirement for primary caregivers.

Commissioner Jack Curtis noted the township doesn't need to worry about whether or not a dispensary operator is a state-registered primary caregiver because one way or another the issue will get resolved.

"If you open one up, somebody's going to come and check on you," he said. "Somebody's going to come and check to see if you're a primary caregiver."

If a someone who's not a primary caregiver wants to "stick (their) neck out" and open a dispensary, that's ultimately their problem, not the township's, Curtis explained. "We don't need to worry about if you are (registered)," he said. "It's not ours to enforce."

Instead of showing their state registration card, planning commissioners decided the proposed ordinance would require each dispensary operator to simply sign an affidavit stating they are a registered caregiver.

In order to operate a medical marijuana dispensary under the proposed ordinance, the planning commission must approve and issue a special use permit.

Planning commissioners changed the language to make this permit something that must be renewed on an annual basis.

This way the planning commission has the authority to potentially revoke a dispensary's permit if the establishment isn't following the rules or becomes a problem.

How much the annual permit application fee should be was the subject of some debate. Commission Chair Todd Bell favored charging only enough to cover what it actually costs the township to process the application. "The township isn't in the business of making money," he said. "The township is here to provide a service." Ultimately, the planning commission decided to leave it up to the township board to set the fee.

On the issue of allowing minors to enter a dispensary, the commissioners clarified the proposed language so that no one under the age of 18 is allowed inside unless they're a state qualifying patient who's accompanied by their parent, guardian or primary caregiver, who, according to state law, must be at least 21 years old.

The only opposition to the proposed ordinance was expressed by Lake Orion resident John Hart. He asked planning commissioners what's motivating them, and other government boards, to allow dispensaries when all marijuana use is still illegal under federal law, which "trumps" state law, and state law does not mention dispensaries at all.

"I listen to the people. It's a democracy," replied Bell, noting Michigan's medical marijuana law was approved by 63 percent of voters.

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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