2017-04-19 / Front Page

Lapeer ‘opts in’ on pot

City rolls forward on medical marijuana
810-452-2640 • jhogan@mihomepaper.com

LAPEER — By a 3-2 margin following a tumultuous discussion, the Lapeer City Commission voted Monday evening to opt in to state laws allowing some type of medical marijuana business to operate in the city.

The choices were to opt in to agree to allow some level of medical marijuana in the city, opt out or against or do nothing — which would’ve had the same effect as voting “no.”

Monday’s decision means the City of Lapeer administration, department heads and planning officials will take up the matter of how the city might allow one, some or all five license types that are now permitted by three laws signed last December by Gov. Rick Snyder. Michigan voters in 2008 overwhelmingly supported a citizen-led initiative in favor of the sale and distribution of medical marijuana in the state, but ever since there has been a great deal of confusion as to what is permitted and how communities can regulate the drug.

Michigan municipalities have until December to notify the State of Michigan their decision regarding the allowance of medical marijuana operations within their jurisdictions. License types permitted by state law include: provisioning centers (retail dispensary locations), grow operations, transporters, processors and safety compliance facilities (authorized to test marijuana for pesticides and dosage strength, etc.).

In a period of the meeting reserved for personal comments at the conclusion of regular commission business, Commisisoner Elaine Gates made a motion for the City of Lapeer to opt in by establishing an ordinance under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, setting off a raucous round of exchanges between commissioners who took issue at the motion and its intent.

Gates was specific in her motion. She suggested the city should allow from three to five provisioning centers, three grow centers, three processing facilities, two safety compliance centers and allow for two secured transporter licenses.

“This is with the understanding that zoning regulations will be drafted by the planning commission to ensure the safety and protection for all our constituents which we will have the opportunity to review before final approval,” continued her motion.

Noting the presence of Justin Dunaskiss in the audience, a medical marijuana advocate and one of the presenters at a workshop session conducted by the commission in March, Commissioner Joshua Atwood was struck by the detail of the motion made by Gates. “Did you write this?” asked Atwood.

Gates fired back, “I’m a medical marijuana card holder who used it for pain because I had cancer, and I can think on my own. I wrote it (the motion).”

“Where do you get it?” asked Atwood. “That’s none of your business,” she responded tersely.

Mayor Bill Sprague intervened to calm the trajectory the heated exchange was taking, and said the number of facilities and license options suggested by Gates may have been premature and suggested a different motion.

Gates withdrew her original motion and made a second, simpler version — to have the City of Lapeer opt in and start the ball rolling to allow city staff and commissions to determine the specifics.

Voting in favor of the motion were Gates, Catherine Bostick-Tullius and Debbie Marquardt while opposed were Atwood and A. Wayne Bennett.

It was Bennett at an April 3 commission meeting who made a motion to put the question of whether the City of Lapeer should allow medical marijuana operations in the city before voters to decide.

Bennett’s motion was picked up again for discussion earlier in Monday’s meeting, but it failed by the same 3-2 vote and by the same supporters and detractors as the motion made by Gates. Mayor Sprague does not have a vote, unless to decide a tie — though he chairs the meeting and directs discussion among the commission.

Bennett was adamant that the controversial topic and future of medical marijuana shouldn’t be left up to the five commissioners, but rather the voters and would’ve preferred the citizens decide the matter in an August election.

“I’m a disabled veteran so I know about pain. I’m not against marijuana being used for pain,” said Bennett, but added current dispensaries in Burton in Genesee County are not that far away for Lapeer-area customers to drive to purchase medical marijuana. “It’s only another 15 to 20 minutes away.”

Atwood was resolute that medical marijuana facilities have no place in Lapeer, citing the likelihood that youth in the community would have greater access to the drug if licenses were permitted in the city. “And besides, according to the federal government marijuana is still a Schedule 1 substance (under the Controlled Substances Act). Until that changes, this is all illegal. This is what the DEA says, it’s not just me,” he told The County Press.

Substances in Schedule 1 are determined by the Food and Drug Administration to have no medical use. States that allow marijuana for medical use or legalize recreational use remain in defiance of federal law.

City Manager Dale Kerbyson, who was not at the last commission meeting when Bennett made his motion, was surprised by the intensity of Monday’s exchange though was calm about the city’s approach going forward.

“We’re not going to reinvent the wheel,” said Kerbyson, who said the City of Lapeer will likely use ordinance language already in the eighth or ninth draft form being compiled by the City of Lansing as a template to how it engages local regulation in Lapeer.

“They’ve been doing this for almost two years. They’ve had industrial, residential and commercial concerns they’ve considered. It will help us in our approach,” Kerbyson said.

One of the other presenters at the commission’s special workshop session coordinated by Kerbyson last month to educate local officials and the public alike about the new medical marijuana legislation was Jim Smiertka, attorney for the City of Lansing.

There are many people within Lapeer government who will be involved in formulating ordinances and regulation now that the city has decided to pursue inclusion of new medical marijuana legislation. The Lapeer Planning Commission, police and fire chiefs, the city’s building department director and administration will all have a voice to determine how many and where medical marijuana facilities may locate or operate within city limits.

“It’s going to take the planning commission an extremely long time to come up with zoning… We need to work to see it’s done responsibly and methodically,” said Bostick, who added she doesn’t want to see provision centers in neighborhoods, downtown or close to schools.

After the vote was taken emotions calmed and apologies were shared by Gates and Atwood regarding the tone the meeting took — a reflection of the controversial issue that has many in the community equally divided and concerned.

The city’s planning commission follows the city’s Master Plan as a guide to where and how development occurs in the city, including zoning ordinances that identify where certain kind of businesses can locate in Lapeer.

Under the new state law, grow facilities can operate only in areas zoned industrial or agricultural. Through zoning and ordinances the city can steer and determine what sort of business activity it wants in commercial, residential and industrial neighborhoods.

While the planning commission votes on zoning and projects, it works for the city commission who ultimately must approve the recommendations of planning officials.

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