2017-07-19 / Editorial

Many moving parts to marijuana debate

Mayfield Township officials recently snuffed out any chances that the rotting hulk of the former Durakon plant on M-24 will be purchased for a medical marijuana grow facility. Officials decided to “do nothing” as it relates to dipping the township’s toes into the unchartered waters of medical marijuana as afforded in an opportunity by the State of Michigan to allow the operation of five possible business options permitted by law.

The City of Lapeer, on the other hand, is moving forward at the planning commission level to decide where and how it will allow medical marijuana operations to exist in the city. The big money and the most attention by prospective business owners, say experts, is in the provision center (retail outlet) or grow facilities where growers can raise 500, 1,000 or 1,500 medical marijuana plants.

Other Lapeer County communities are also trying to find their way as it relates to medical marijuana. Municipalities have until December to notify the State of Michigan whether they will opt in, out or do nothing as Mayfield Township chose to do. Doing “nothing” is essentially the same as saying “no” and prohibits entrepreneurs from pursuing a business license application in the community.

At last week’s meeting of the Lapeer Planning Commission, the city’s planning consultant urged officials they must also consider the possibility that the recreational use of marijuana may soon become legal while they consider where they may allow some form of medical marijuana business in the city.

That’s because a pro-legalization group is rolling ahead of schedule to collect 252,523 signatures by Michigan residents to put a ballot proposal before voters in 2018. As of last week, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol had collected more than 100,000 signatures in only seven weeks.

The ballot proposal would legalize and regulate marijuana for recreational use. People 21 and older could use the substance, but could not consume it in a public place or drive under the influence.

Local communities could decide whether they want to allow recreational marijuana businesses. Retail sales would be taxed at 10 percent, plus sales tax, with the new revenue going to K-12 schools, road repairs and participating cities and counties.

If Lapeer were to allow a provision center for medical marijuana, it stands to reason that the business could easily pivot to sell marijuana for recreational use as well — and therefore officials need to be mindful where such facilities might be located.

One of the things officials in Lapeer need to address is distance — the distance a retail marijuana business can be located as it relates to proximity to schools, parks and residences for instance. If the distance is found to be too great to be practical for business, a prospective license applicant may have merit to file suit against the city on the grounds the regulations were too restrictive.

The current coalition will have an advantage this year over previous efforts to get the issue of recreational marijuana on the ballot. The national Marijuana Policy Project, which has gotten involved in several other states where marijuana legalization has succeeded, has jumped into Michigan’s ballot drive. So far eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, while 29 states have legalized some form of medical marijuana use.

But there is opposition. The Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Association opposed the medical marijuana ballot question in 2008. And the group’s president, Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene, says they haven’t changed their position on the issue.

“There are consequences that flow from these decisions,” Reene told Michigan Public Radio in April. “And that’s why each of these things need to be analyzed very carefully.”

But personally, Reene sees problems with legalizing marijuana. He says the eight states that have already legalized recreational pot, are seeing more problems with public safety. It’s true, they are.

That’s why Lapeer officials have their work cut out, yet there’s no denying the tide is turning as more and more people are accepting the use of marijuana — provided it’s safe.

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