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Council seeks counsel on new pot rules

Posted on | April 18, 2013 | No Comments

Douglas continued its pas de deux with medical marijuana rules Monday, postponing acting on two proposed ordinances until city council can meet with legal counsel regarding a pending Michigan Supreme Court case.

City manager Bill LeFevere told council, which April 1 passed the first reading of its new rules, that the court April 3 granted a leave of appeal to hear a case challenging a City of Wyoming medical marijuana ordinance.

The resulting ruling “could be a game-changer for us,” LeFevere said.

Council voted to table acting on both, pending further advice from its lawyer.

State voters in 2008 passed the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act allowing certified patient caregivers to assist as many as five patients and themselves with as many as 12 plants each, despite the fact marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law.

Dispensaries have sprouted statewide since then. In the meantime, municipalities have been left to regulate local uses, knowing measures they pass could be overruled by local and/or appeals courts and the state, which in turn could be trumped by the federal government.

Douglas, whose voters approved the act by 79 percent, the largest in Allegan County, first addressed the possibility of a medical marijuana facility in summer 2010 when a prospective caregiver broached the subject.

The proposed use didn’t fit any city zoning because the caregiver would be growing, harvesting and processing plants, then dispensing them to approved users.

The zoning board of appeals passed responsibility for developing proper zoning to the planning commission, which drafted rules that allowed caregiver operations in commercial and light industrial districts only, not in homes.

Council, in April and again in November 2012, declined to pass the proposed rules, opting instead for six-month extensions of a medical marijuana moratorium. The latest is set to expire next month.

Douglas is not the lone local government to wrestle with medical marijuana regulations.

After neighboring Saugatuck Township saw two dispensaries open in spring 2010 along Blue Star Highway, its board passed a three-month moratorium on new facilities. Members asked the planning commission for guidelines to oversee sales of the substance.

Township board members, seeking more clarity from the state, later chose not to vote on planners’ suggested ordinance limiting dispensaries to home occupations.

Saugatuck city and Laketown Township do not have medical marijuana ordinances. Rules in other neighbor municipalities run a gamut from home operations to outright bans.

Douglas April 1 approved the first reading of new guidelines governing licensing and locations, noting by doing nothing the city risks being accused of not regulating land use.

One new ordinance would create a medical marijuana overlay district that permits growing operations in commercial zones along Blue Star Highway, mostly south of Center Street, and in light industrial districts on the city’s south side.

The second deals with licensing caregivers and growers for one year, including descriptions of how the applicant plans to keep the substance in a locked and enclosed facility.

Attorney Phil Erickson told city council April 1 that Douglas, in accord with state law, would allow registered primary caregivers to grow medical marijuana for as many as five qualifying patients plus themselves. No dispensaries, a term that implies distribution to more than five patients, would be permitted.

Growing operations would have to be at least 50 feet distant from residential districts; 1,000 feet from schools; and 500 feet from churches, public parks and libraries, and any other caregiver operation. Sites would not be allowed within the city-designated historic area.

Attorney Phil Erickson told Douglas council April 1 there was still pending case law that might bring more clarity, but members could amend the ordinances in the future if needed. Members two weeks later were not so certain.

“I’d like legal advice on what actions are next appropriate,” Eric Smith said

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