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Twp. wants state to clarify MM law

January 19, 2011 - Rather than take any action regarding a proposed ordinance to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries at the local level, the Oxford Township Board last week decided to appeal to the state Legislature for direction in these uncharted waters.

"I think we need to put pressure on our state reps. and our senators who are sitting there doing nothing about this," said Trustee Sue Bellairs.

Township officials voted 7-0 to notify state Rep. Brad Jacobsen (R-Oxford) and state Sen. Jim Marleau (R-Lake Orion) that they want to the state to "clarify" its medical marijuana law "as soon as possible."

"There's too many unanswered questions," said Treasurer Joe Ferrari. "To me, there's other issues that need to be clarified at the different levels of government (to) provide us some direction."

Approved by 63 percent of Michigan voters in November 2008, the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act does not expressly make any provisions for what are known as dispensaries businesses or other facilities that distribute medical marijuana to qualified patients.

Because the voter-approved law is silent on the issue of dispensaries, many local municipalities have found it necessary to adopt ordinance language regarding them as people seek to open them in their communities.

Such language has ranged from outright bans to regulating their location and operations. Many communities are facing lawsuits as a result of their dispensary ordinances.

For the last several months, the Oxford Township Planning Commission has been crafting a proposed ordinance to regulate dispensaries based on previous direction from the township board.

The commission finished its work and voted Dec. 9 to send the draft to the township board for approval or denial as far as taking the next step in the zoning ordinance amendment process.

However, there were those on the board who felt comfortable continuing to keep the existing 180-day moratorium (approved Nov. 10) in place until the state clarifies the law.

"I think probably within the next six months we can have a lot of answers to a lot of these questions," Ferrari said. "I think as time (goes on) you're going to start seeing more direction coming down on this. There's no reason for us to jump into it."

"I think that we should hold off on this," Bellairs said. "Everybody's suing all of these communities that make these ordinances up."

Potential lawsuits against the township was also a concern of Ferrari's.

"I guarantee you if we pass this ordinance, somebody's going to sue on one side or the other," the treasurer said. "If we jump into it, we're just going to rack up a ton of legal fees."

"That's why I think our best bet is to wait," Ferrari noted. "That's why we have the moratorium."

Bellairs noted that marijuana use and distribution is still illegal under federal law.

"I don't think we can supercede federal law right now," she said. "When you pass this, you're actually giving permission to violate federal law."

The trustee also questioned who would enforce many of the restrictions contained in the proposed ordinance such as not allowing any qualified medical marijuana patients under the age of 18 in dispensaries unless they're accompanied by another qualifying patient or their caregiver, which by law must be their parent or legal guardian.

Bellairs wanted to know "who's going to be sitting outside any of these places" checking the ages of those entering?

"How are you going to enforce this?" she said.

Supervisor Bill Dunn pointed out that the township's role isn't to determine whether dispensaries are "legal or illegal." The purpose of the ordinance is to simply deal with the "zoning question."

"First of all, do you want to have it in your community? Second of all, where do you want to have it in your community?," he said. "All this legality stuff I don't even want to get into. Let the sheriff's department, state police, let everybody else worry about the enforcement of it."

Trustee Joe Bunting suggested township officials discuss the question of enforcement with the Oakland County Sheriff's Department.

"They're the ones that will be enforcing it," he said. "If we put something in an ordinance that we wanted enforced, but it can't be enforced by our sheriff's department, then we have a problem."

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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