2017-11-12 / Front Page

Marijuana ‘odor’ concerns officials

Lapeer officials grapple with medical pot ordinance
810-452-2640 • jhogan@mihomepaper.com

LAPEER — There was some anticipation that the Lapeer Planning Commission might approve a draft ordinance Thursday evening to regulate where medical marijuana businesses could operate in the city.

That didn’t happen. The planning commission instead directed its contracted consultants at Rowe Professional Services to draft amendments that define possible special land use issues that might be relevant to each of the five medical marijuana license options available to prospective operators.

An exasperated Mayor Bill Sprague, who sits on the planning commission, described the action as “going back to square one” after months of work — while commission Chairman Joe Black said the move is more of a clarification exercise to ensure city planning officials have a full appreciation of consequences to their eventual vote.

It was thought it might be possible had the commission approved a draft ordinance Thursday that it could have been scheduled for a public hearing on Dec. 14 — the day before the State of Michigan is authorized to begin issuing licenses to medical marijuana business applicants. Growers, processors, transporters, provisioning centers and safety compliance facilities within the medical marijuana industry will be able to begin applying for licenses under the Medical Marijuana Facility Licensing Act on Dec. 15.

Instead the planning consultants will bring back the reworked document for another review by the planning commission at its December meeting, meaning the next possible opportunity for a public hearing won’t occur until at least January.

In August, the planning department agreed to permit all five business license options allowed under state law in the city to include: provisioning centers (retail dispensary locations), grow operations, transporters, processors and safety compliance facilities.

At Thursday’s meeting it was no longer certain to Mayor Sprague that all five license applications will materialize in the city. He frustratedly asked the commission aloud if they’re still in favor of allowing medical marijuana to happen in the city.

“We went backwards tonight,” said Sprague, who suggested it appeared several commissioners were going out of their way to thwart the process by micro-managing details he assumed were already agreed upon.

“This is a perfectly legal business

(medical marijuana) permitted by the State of Michigan, but now you want to require special land use permits for all five business license types? … I think we’re singling out a particular business because some people are opposed to marijuana.”

When polled by commission Chairman Joe Black on whether the board should require a special land use for all business applicants, Commissioner Ed Jamison commented, “I haven’t been enchanted with it (marijuana) from the beginning because of my past life (as a police officer). I think because of the nature of the business a special land use is appropriate.”

Commissioner Anne Shenck also took exception to Sprague’s objection, and suggested doing otherwise would show favoritism to medical marijuana businesses over others in the community. “The public has the right to know what’s going to go there before they wake up and it’s there,” she commented.

Commissioner Jennell Racosta was also adamant because a special land use permit process requires neighboring property owners within 300 feet of a proposed change of use to be notified, it will demonstrate “transparency” and there will be no surprises held from anyone. “I still think to protect the neighbors of existing businesses I think it would be in the best interest to put it out there.”

Much of the discussion Thursday evening centered around odor — whether the odor of marijuana from a dispensary, a grow facility or in the transport of product or cash could be detected by others and how it can be monitored or enforced.

Sprague asked how is an odor measured. “Pardon my French, is it just when someone ‘bitches’”? This is something that is so subjective … It’s ridiculous.”

City Manager Dale Kerbyson, who also sits on the planning commission, said he didn’t think much of the odor issue until he visited the police department where he said a small amount of marijuana stored in sealed containers in the evidence room was readily detected outside that room. “I hear it from our police staff that it’s a big problem, that they can smell it (marijuana) when they’re out places … I could see where odor could be a problem,” particularly he added in locations that might share a common wall such as in a strip mall setting.

Planning consultant Scott Kree in his memo to the planning commission suggested all five license applicant options be subject to a special land use review.

“People want to know what their neighbor is doing. Period. I don’t think they (medical marijuana business) want to be hated, so I’m sure they will want to do everything they can to be a good neighbor.”

Voting in favor of a special land use process for review of medical marijuana applicants were Jennell Racosta, Anne Shenck, Ed Jamison, Joe Black and Dale Kerbyson, while opposed were Austin Kelly and Bill Sprague. Commissioner Dave Sommerville was absent.

Sprague insisted when the planning consultants are back before them in December with another draft ordinance that they provide an explanation (description of equipment, etc.) how an odor can be measured and how a violation would be enforced.

When the planning commission has approved a m edical marijuana ordinance and a public hearing has been held, the ordinance will then go before the Lapeer City Commission that could make changes to it or send it back to the planning commission for more work. It can’t spike the ordinance proposal, because the City of Lapeer agreed last April to “opt in” to permit some form of medical marijuana businesses to operate in the city.

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