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Some Genesee County Communities Still Hazy On Regulation Of Medical Marijuana Sales

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GENESEE COUNTY, MI -- While some Genesee County communities have continued moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries, others have moved to set guidelines or let state and federal regulations determine whether they can stay in business. 


Officials in Davison have let amoratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries expire, allowing state guidelines to rule.

"We already got the recommendation from (the planning commission) just to let it go," said Mayor Tim Bishop of the moratorium, which expired last week. "We just based it on the fact that the state had said; what they claim is they have control of this."


City Council members voted in May to keep the moratorium in place until state and federal officials provided more clarity on medical marijuana dispensaries.


The state Supreme Court ruled in February that patient-to-patients transfers could not take place at dispensaries, while giving local prosecutors the power to declare such locations a public nuisance.


"We decided we are going to go with the state and federal law and how they handle it," said Bishop.

Davison council member Paul Hammond said the board has decided not to pass an ordinance, “Because if we pass an ordinance, some federal lawyer could come along and sue us” based on the guidelines.


“If there’s any argument, it’s between the state and the federal government,” he said, pointing out potential personal liability for board members if an ordinance was approved. “Not the city of Davison.”


Grand Blanc is reviewing its policy, with a six-month moratorium expiring last month. City Manager Paul Brake said state law is still taking shape with court cases such as Ter Beek versus the city of Wyoming, waiting to be heard before the state Supreme Court.


In that case, attorney and medical marijuana patient John Ter Beek argued against a city ordinance that didn't allow any areas in the city where marijuana could be sold. While Ter Beek lost the case before a Kent County Circuit Court judge, a three-judge Court of Appeals panel sided against the city.


“As we reviewed different possible draft ordinances, aside from spending a lot of attorney time and draft time, it needs to be more definitively spelled out,” said Brake about the state law.


He pointed out the city does have an ordinance in place that states until federal law legalizes use and possession of marijuana 

“We’re taking the stance if federal law prohibits it, we do too,” he said. Brake added that the city could end up regulating marijuana facilities under zoning regulations, with setbacks from buildings including schools.


Other Genesee County communities, inclusing Clayton Township and Flushing, have already put regulations in place for marijuana dispensaries..

Flushing Police Chief Mark Hoornstra said the city has an ordinance noting compliance with the state’s medical marijuana law passed in 2008, but it also regulates dispensaries with a zoning ordinance that requires a special use permit and for such facilities to operate in the general business area with no visible signs.


While some clarity has been provided by the state Supreme Court, he said other cases leave the picture a little hazy on what moves local governments can take.


“It makes it a lot more difficult for those changes to be made,” Hoornstra said. “I don’t know if all of the legislators are on the same page, of what they want to see.”


He noted “The law was really poorly written” and left a lot of loopholes regarding  enforcement.

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said nobody has stepped forward to demand action against dispensaries.


“We don’t have any pending requests to file public nuisance actions against any alleged marijuana dispensaries,” he said. “We will enforce state law with respect to alleged dispensaries. Since we don’t have any investigators in our office, we rely on area investigators.”


Hoornstra said that while some people take the stance government should not be involved in the issue, “If you’ve got someone who has a caregiver situation set up in an apartment complex and has mold, or a fire breaks out, that’s a concern for the public.”


Swartz Creek City Manager Paul Bueche said the city has taken a straightforward approach with medical marijuana dispensaries. 

"We would rather treat the things just like storefront businesses that are in a mall, rather than put them in an industrial corner there, so there’s no problems with seedy locations," he said.


In looking over the issue with zoning officials, Bueche said while no dispensaries in the city are in commercial zones, the city is using the same distance restrictions and requirements on establishments that sell alcohol.


"Why not treat them like a tavern and throw them in commercial zones?" he said. "They're retail. They're commercial shops. The use becomes let's treat those like bars. That's regulated and time-tested over the years."


Bueche said the facilities become problems when owners try to open up a business on the cheap, adding, "The law was designed not to profit, but to provide medical marijuana to patients." 


Anyone wanting to do business in Swartz Creek would have to receive approval from the city attorney, Bueche said, which helps cut down on the constantly evolving law at the state and federal levels. 


"We’re not going to sit there and play the game where we’re interpreting for you," he said. "In other words, that it meets the law at that time. If that’s what you want to do, we’re going to treat them like any other business."


In taking what Hammond called "the middle ground" on the issue, he said, "We just leave the battle between the feds and the state."

"Just let it go and if somebody wants to start growing, we have the state law to control it," Hammond said. "As far as I believe, it's a settled issue with the council."

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