Atlas board approves new zoning requirements for medical marijuana grows

ATLAS TWP. — An amendment to the Atlas Township ordinance regulating medical marijuana grows will limit the establishment of the operations to areas zoned for light or heavy manufacturing.

The township Board of Trustees adopted the amendment Thursday, Feb. 18, by a vote of 4-1.

Clerk Katie Vick cast the lone dissenting vote, citing concerns that the amended ordinance is too restrictive.

“I think we should consider some conditional use permit language in the future,” she said. “And I have concerns over those existing caregivers who we don’t have on our radar yet, and what their process is like. Is there a timeline to get registered with us? Lastly, I think we also should look into the home occupation aspect of this.”

At the Wednesday, Feb. 17, planning commission meeting, Vick brought up concerns about whether existing caregivers are grandfathered in and therefore may continue to grow in areas not zoned for manufacturing.

Township attorney David Lattie said they may, as long as they register with the township.

“All zoning ordinances carry a provision that if there was a lawful use established before a regulation came into effect, and if those nonconforming uses don’t change, they are allowed to continue,” he said.

The registration ordinance took effect in January. Caregivers who do not comply could be forced to shut down their operations.

As of last week, one caregiver had registered, and another had requested an application, Vick said.

“We have some well-meaning people who want to comply with the permit ordinance,” said Lattie. “But they’re just getting started, in part because we’re just getting started. So, we will have to allow some time for them to comply. We’re not trying to trip up anyone who is, in good faith, trying (to comply).”

Vick also voiced some concerns about identification of patients, as required for the permit. Specifically, that information is in the public domain and subject to Freedom of Information Act, which butts up against the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects the privacy of individuals’ health information.

Lattie pointed out that the information is on file with the State of Michigan, and already subject to FOIA.

“We’re not trying to create a database,” he said. “We just want to be able to line up the patients with the plants.”

The township’s ordinance requires caregivers to allow the code enforcement officer to inspect medical marijuana grows to make sure the caregivers have no more than 12 plants per patient, and/or 12 plants for personal use.