Atlas Twp. to consider registering medical marijuana caregivers

ATLAS TWP. — The Atlas Township Planning Commission is considering an ordinance to regulate medical marijuana grows in an effort to prevent abuses of the 2008 Michigan Medical Marihuana Act.

Attorney David Lattie proposed the ordinance after writing similar regulations for Davison Township, where residents raised concerns over a proliferation of grow operations in some neighborhoods.

Planning Commission Chairman Rick Misek said the ordinance would give township officials the tools to “nip any abuses by a caregiver – who might be looking at the caregiver opportunity differently from what the law provides – in the bud before they become problems like the ones in Davison Township.”

Commissioner Pat Major indicated the change is not an attempt to limit legitimate medical marijuana operations.

“We need to keep in mind there is a high value to medical marijuana for a lot of patients, and … not impede those people, who need medical marijuana, from getting their medication … that we don’t make it too difficult for these people,” Major said.

“I think we should go on record as having considered that in our deliberations because it certainly has value and there is a possibility that a board could … go too far in one direction. So, I just want to bring that up and let it be on the record we understand there is a value to medical marijuana and it helps a lot of people, and we are just trying to curb any abuses that may occur.”

Misek later shared a similar sentiment, saying Major’s remarks were not only appropriate but also “a reflection of the current township board’s recognition of the voters’ will regarding decriminalization of marijuana.”

“This proposed legislation is being pursued as a deterrent to the inevitable unlawful abuse of the current Michigan law, and in no way is intended to obstruct lawful medical marijuana activity,” he said.

Lattie recommended the township require caregivers annually apply for permits, which could cost $250. The permit process could include a code enforcement inspection, as well as proof that each caregiver is registered with the state and has the appropriate number of patients and plants.

It remains unclear whether such proof would include identifying patients.

“That raises some issues,” said Misek. “Of course, you start getting into some concerns over HIPAA and other aspects of current law.”

HIPAA – the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – protects patient privacy.

Lattie said Davison Township had problems with “makeshift” grows housed in tent-like structures in residential neighborhoods.

“They (the grows) were causing all sorts of problems for the neighbors in terms of aesthetics and also odor,” Lattie said.

“There was an entire neighborhood in revolt over the presence of this rather large operation. We found there were at least a half dozen of these operations in existence, so it was beginning to become an obvious problem because these folks were locating in traditional subdivisions with very little space.”

Lattie said, in writing the Davison Township ordinance, he was not concerned about making it easy for applicants.

“We’re asking for a lot of information,” he said.

Caregivers who refuse to comply could be shut down, their property confiscated and their greenhouses and grow rooms dismantled, he said. They also could face fines.

“This is not an effort to subvert the medical marijuana act,” Misek reiterated, “only to address potential abuses.”

Any new ordinance, which would have to go to the township Board of Trustees for final approval based on the Planning Commission’s recommendation, would apply to all medical marijuana grows, including existing operations.

The commission also will look at possible zoning changes that could address permissible locations for new medical marijuana grows.

Although the township “opted out” of recreational marijuana operations, there currently are no ordinances or zoning requirements for medical marijuana sales or cultivation.

New zoning would not affect existing medical marijuana grows.

Misek said Atlas Township has not had the problems Davison Township has faced, although they’ve received some complaints about the odor at certain times in the growing process.