Township moving closer to decision on medical marijuana

FLINT TWP. — Regulation of medical marijuana usage in the township moved closer to passage following a workshop meeting last week by the township Board of Trustees and its Planning Commission.

The two boards met with township attorney Peter Goodstein to address lingering questions and concerns about how to handle medical marijuana usage in the township.

The Planning Commission has approved and recommended a zoning ordinance on the issue but the township board voted to postpone enacting it at a second reading in March. Instead, the board extended a moratorium until July which has been extended again until October because of unresolved questions.

One sticking point is the disparity between federal and state law. State law allowing medical marijuana use was sanctioned by Michigan voters in 2008 but federal law prohibits possession or manufacture of the controlled substance. Because of that difference, the township board has grappled with language in a zoning ordinance amendment.

Like many other municipalities deliberating regulation, the township has the choice of doing nothing or passing a zoning ordinance which sets parameters on where medical marijuana businesses can be located.

“Do something,’’ was attorney Goodstein’s advice.

“The risk of not doing something is that people will run them wherever they want to. Caregivers will locate wherever they want to,’’ he said.

Goodstein noted a recent ruling by a Midland Circuit Court Judge that the state medical marijuana law is unconstitutional. That decision likely will be appealed to higher courts and in the long-term could result in a federal override of state law, Goodstein said.

Meanwhile he advocated that the board decide what approach it wants to take under current law.

Board members asked questions about legislating billboards advertising medical marijuana, about proximity of caregivers to schools and churches, and about areas in the township where the proposed zoning ordinance would allow use.

The state law allows a caregiver to grow and provide marijuana for up to five users.

The workshop panel reviewed a map showing areas of the township where caregivers’ “businesses’’ would be allowed to operate under proposed zoning regulations.

Trustee George Menoutes, a retired pharmacist, said he counted 27 locations south of Miller Road and feared creating an environment that would tax the police department.

During public comment, two people spoke in favor of the board moving past the moratorium which has suspended activity of people interested in operating.

Nick Panessidi owns a township business at 3095 Dye Road that provides information to medical marijuana users and also operates dispensaries in the City of Flint.

He urged the board not to limit operations to bad areas where they would not send their own mothers.

“Many people need this for their medicine,’’ he said.

Cary Justice of Linden identified herself as a medical marijuana patient and caregiver to her husband. The City of Linden currently has a moratorium in place suspending activity. Justice cautioned that by passing strict regulations the board could end up with “a big mess on your hands.’’

As a caregiver, she said she underwent a background check and that her permit card must be renewed annually.

Township Supervisor Karyn Miller said the stalled medical marijuana zoning ordinance would be placed on the board’s agenda for a vote again in August or September.

She also said she would like to get something on the books.

“I don’t think it is wise to do nothing,’’ she said.

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