DAVISON TWP. — Residents of Vassar Park subdivision came to the July 13 board of trustees meeting seeking answers to their concerns about a medical marijuana crop growing in their neighborhood.
The board had few answers to offer as it awaits the outcome of court proceedings against the owner of the crop who installed a massive privacy fence to conceal the pot plants growing in his backyard.
Neighbors said the fence sprang up literally overnight back in May and is designed to conceal the plants from sight – which would make them in violation of state marijuana laws.
The fence was described by one resident as “a black tarp monstrosity” constructed of cross braces, poles, and chicken wire.
The township is going after the homeowner for the height of the fence, which violates its ordinance allowing fence to only be six-foot tall. The township has already issued a series of citations to the property owner, all of which were ignored, sending the matter before a judge Aug. 10.
If the fence must come down, township officials said the plants would be visible and would have to be removed.
At the meeting, Supervisor Tim Elkins assured residents the township was doing everything it can to bring down the fence, and ultimately, the grow operation.
“We haven’t forgotten you, we’re exploring options,” said Elkins. “Each step takes time, we can’t change the rules, rules are rules. We’re waiting on the court hearing, Aug. 10. Unfortunately, these things all have time deadlines.”
Resident Terri McDaniel said she notified the township in writing on May 31 about the marijuana crop and made multiple phone calls regarding its increasing size. She also said she emailed Zoning Administrator Jeremy Smith and Elkins pictures of the operation.
“That supposedly led to issuing the first citation, but it continued to grow and he (the property owner) kept building and building,” said McDaniel. “Our concern is ‘what the heck is going on?’”
Township Attorney David Lattie said the township has gone through all the processes and notifications they are required to under law, stating there is a procedure that takes place upon the issuance of a civil ticket.
The number of steps in the process concerned some Vassar Park residents who attended the meeting. Some said they thought the township had given the property owner too many chances.
“Well, it may be a second chance, but this is the procedure (the township) set up,” said Lattie. “With the issuance of a civil ticket we are limited to the ordinances on the books.”
The township, he said, like most municipalities in Michigan, is still working on ordinances to deal with medical and recreational marijuana, growing and distribution, following its legalization in Michigan by voters in 2018.
This case, in Vassar Park, is one of the first dealing with someone growing and harvesting medical marijuana the township has dealt with.
“The sad fact is we are the guinea pig,” said Clerk Cindy Shields. “There is no precedent yet.”
Treasurer Pat Miller summed it up a differently, “The state dropped a bomb in our lap, as they often do, and we’re left to clean up the mess.”
McDaniel said her understanding of the law is if neighbors could see the plants from a solid structure the grow operation immediately becomes illegal.
Despite the fence, she said the plants can be seen by the resident next door and the police were notified – but no action has been taken.
Deputy Police Chief Gerald Harris said the department is aware of the visibility of the plants, but he could not comment further about the police investigation.
“What if he is able to harvest his crop, take down fence, then do it again next year?” said McDaniel.
Elkins said the township is working on making it so the property owner and anyone else in the township won’t be able to do something like this again. He reminded the residents the growing of marijuana is legal now, despite how anyone feels about it.
“You voted it in,” said Elkins. “We’re dealing with the fence. We can’t do anything now and if the court says we have to live with it, we will. If it says it has to come down, it will.”
Lattie assured residents if the court ordered the fence removed, he would ask the judge to require it to be taken down immediately. He estimated the order could have it down in as little as three days.
“If judge decides (the fence) is a violation, we will order it down immediately,” said Lattie. “We’ll ask for three days, if it’s not down we’ll have someone in there on the fourth day tearing it down.”