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Mixed opinions, lots of questions on MM dispensaries

November 03, 2010 - There was no shortage of questions or opinions as the Oxford Township Planning Commission listened Oct. 28 to what the public and their counterparts from the village had to say, pro and con, about its proposed ordinance to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries.

"It's very well-written and there's been a lot of thought put in here," said village Planning Commissioner Steve Allen. "You've got your bases pretty well covered."

"My concern is that people are going to look at marijuana as the easy way out," said Oxford resident Frankie Thomas. "I'm concerned that people are going to look at this as just a really easy way to get high and forget about all (their) pains."

The township planning commission discussed and listened to comments regarding its proposed ordinance to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the following zoning districts Local Commercial (C-1), General Commercial (C-2) and Research-Office (RO).

Dispensaries would be limited to one for every 5,000 residents and could only operate if the planning commission issues them a special use permit, which would then have to be renewed on an annual basis.

The proposed ordinance prohibits dispensaries from being located within one mile of each other or within 1,000 feet of a church, public or private K-12 school or licensed childcare facility.

After some discussion, the planning commission voted unanimously to send the draft back to the Ordinance Review Subcommittee so it can basically do three things add synagogues, mosques and other places of worship to the 1,000-foot restriction; look into the possibility of limiting those who can enter dispensaries to only patients and caregivers who possess state-issued registry cards; and review whether or not the retail sale of other merchandise should be allowed.

One thing both village and township planning commissioners could definitely agree on is that the state's medical marijuana law was poorly crafted.

Township Commissioner Tom Berger called it "very vague," while village Commissioner John DuVal was a bit more biting, describing it as the "Edsel" of legislation.

Because the state law does not define or even mention dispensaries, DuVal asked why the township felt it necessary to take it upon itself to define it.

"Nowhere in that bad piece of legislation do they even acknowledge, define (or) bring up the term dispensary," he said. "Why do I want to expand on the definition for my local ordinance when indeed the state, by virtue of their own law, does not recognize that as a defined element or part of their law?"

Township Planning Commissioner Jack Curtis explained that the reality is there are "entrepreneurs" out there who are looking to make money off medical marijuana and are opening dispensaries all over the state. The planning commission was simply asked for a recommendation as to where to put dispensaries in terms of zoning.

Todd Bell, chairman of the township planning commission, indicated the local government is trying to be "proactive" when it comes to this issue and plan for the future like it did when it came up with an ordinance to regulate turbines used to harness wind energy.

"The only thing Oxford Township is doing is saying okay, if these dispensaries are going to be allowed, here's the zoning and here's the criteria it has to follow," Bell said. "We're only zoning. That's all we're concentrating on."

Bell said what the planning commission must do, and has done up to this point, is separate out the emotional and legal issues because they aren't part of its job.

"As a planning commissioner, we can't look at it from either of those perspectives," he said. "We don't enforce laws. We don't make them . . . We create ordinances and suggest that these ordinances be recommended to our (township) board."

But DuVal's main concern was still the fact that dispensaries are being defined by local municipalities when the state's made "absolutely no attempt" to define them.

"It would be great if they defined it for us," DuVal said. "A dispensary is only a vague word used in local ordinances. We have nothing to fall back (on) to say whether our definition is in accordance with (how) the state would define it, if they did."

"We're going to be creating zoning for something that we don't know necessarily what the legal definition is yet," he noted.

Martin Collier, a village planning commissioner, expressed his adamant opposition to allowing dispensaries in Oxford.

"I think if this happens it's not going to be a good thing," he said. "It's something that is going to open up a can of worms."

Allowing dispensaries will desensitize people to marijuana and open the door for the drug's decriminalization, in Collier's opinion.

"It's a push for marijuana to become legalized," he said. "It is one of the things that is behind this . . . I believe that we all can't have our heads stuck in the sand over that."

Collier noted that marijuana, whether it's used for medical or recreational purposes, is still against federal law.

However, it was also noted during the meeting, that 13 other states have legalized medical marijuana and federal law enforcement personnel aren't going after them because they've been directed not to.

Comments from the public were mixed.

A couple of Hadley residents spoke in favor of allowing dispensaries as did Lake Orion resident Andrew Sester.

"(Medical marijuana is) the only way that I can get any relief for the pain I have. You may not see it, but it is there. It's a real thing," said Sester, who indicated he's a registered patient and caregiver. "We are not here to judge people and how they should be conducting their lives and making their decisions."

Sester noted that medical marijuana dispensaries can both serve patients' needs and help "bail out" the Michigan economy.

But not everyone agreed.

Oxford resident Deana Collier expressed her concern about how allowing dispensaries in the community could impact her children, other children and future generations.

She was also concerned about their proximity to schools, which is addressed with the 1,000-foot restriction.

Lake Orion resident John Hart also expressed his opposition. He said that in other instances, the planning commission has allowed or prohibited businesses in areas based on the criteria of "whether it fits or not."

"Patterson's drug store fits. Marijuana dispensaries don't fit. Oxford Cinema fits. Adult theaters don't fit," 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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