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Birmingham Struggles To Find Pot Spots

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Marijuana, where can I hide you?

Elected officials in Birmingham are struggling with that question as they try to pinpoint some discreet locations within city limits that could be zoned for indoor marijuana grow facilities. Considering Birmingham is about 4.8 square miles and almost completely built-out, they're having a tough time finding places.

"It took us how many years to get a dog park … and now you're going to have a grow facility for marijuana? Really?" City Commissioner Scott Moore said during a study session Monday in which the topic of medical marijuana was on the agenda.

Up to now, Birmingham has prohibited grow operations on the grounds marijuana is federally classified as a controlled substance. But as a result of recent court rulings, City Attorney Tim Currier said municipalities can no longer turn away the operations, as they are expressly permitted under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act that voters passed in 2008. The measure allows a caregiver to grow up to 72 plants.

Moore and the other commissioners want to comply with the court ruling, but where to locate the facilities and how many to allow are questions the city has yet to resolve. Other issues also need to be addressed, such as how to contain the plant odors and determining an adequate buffer zones from residential properties.

Currier admits the conflict between state and federal law creates a difficult scenario for anyone trying to comply with the MMMA language. Federal law prohibits the sale and use of marijuana and so does the existing state law in Michigan. But the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled the MMMA provides a legal exemption from state prosecution for anyone who has a medical marijuana card and is using the drug in limited quantities for medicinal purposes.

"It's still a federal crime," he said. "Don't believe you're totally safe if you want to go out and smoke a joint tonight and have a drink ... you couldn't have a worse situation. It's a mess."

Possible locations

Planning Director Jana Ecker said she's been fielding calls in recent months from people interested in setting up grow operations. Her response to this point is the city doesn't allow them. Currier said eventually someone is going to force the issue by filing a lawsuit against the city, under the argument that it should be allowed as a permitted business.

Deputy Police Chief Mark Clemence said grow operations are not retail outlets, or dispensaries, where a person off the street can purchase marijuana. Instead, they're similar to storage units in which a caregiver would lease a certain amount of space to grow marijuana.

The commission's main objective is to keep the facilities away from residential neighborhoods. Currier said there was a recent inquiry from someone interested in buying houses in Birmingham for a "substantial grow operation."

One possible location for commercial facilities is the city's Rail District that runs along Eton Road between Maple and Lincoln. Ecker said the district makes sense because it has limited access and is near the police shooting range in the event someone tries to break into one of the buildings.

On the flip side, Ecker said the Rail District is rapidly growing with new commercial and housing projects. The district is already home to the Goldfish Swim Club, Robot Garage, Kenning Park and other family-friendly destinations.

Several planning board members believe it makes more sense to zone several parcels in the Central Business District to allow for grow operations. The police station is located there and the price of real estate is more expensive downtown, possibly discouraging applicants from wanting to set up shop in Birmingham.

But a number of commissioners nixed that idea Monday.

"Would you as planners say, 'I think what we need downtown is a marijuana facility in our walkable community?' It simply does not pass the smell test," Commissioner Gordon Rinschler said at the meeting.

Two groups, the Michigan Cannabis Coalition and Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee, are collecting signatures for a 2016 ballot question that would legalize the possession or use of recreational marijuana by adults 21 years of age or older and allow for sales at retail shops in Michigan.

With that in mind, several people at the meeting said it might be more practical for the city to wait until the outcome of the election before making a final decision.



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