2018-02-25 / Editorial

New era dawns with medical marijuana

In 2008, Michigan became one of 29 states that have passed measures fully legalizing or decriminalizing medical marijuana. Placed on the ballot as the result of a citizen petition initiative, it was a clunky measure from the get-go that left many patients, lawmakers, local officials and law enforcement confused as to how the law should be interpreted, enacted and enforced.

Eight years later, after of much trial and error and legal challenges, the Medical Marijuana Facility Licensing Act (MMFL) was passed by the Michigan Legislature in September 2016 and later signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder. The law permits five license types of businesses to operate in Michigan cities, villages or townships — provided the municipalities “opt in.” The medical marijuana business types include grower, processor, secure transporter, provisioning center (dispensary) and safety compliance facilities.

In Lapeer County, only the Village of Almont and the City of Lapeer elected officials agreed to allow medical marijuana businesses in their communities. Statewide, according to the Dept. of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, as of Wednesday, 77 municipalities have opted in. In neighboring counties, the communities of Burton, Orion Township and Vassar have also said “yes” to medical marijuana businesses within their jurisdiction.

Last Monday, the Lapeer City Commission adopted a zoning ordinance to regulate where medical marijuana businesses can operate in the city.

Effective April 1, Lapeer will begin accepting license applications for all five business types permitted by state law — though it restricted the number of dispensaries to six, and prohibited them from the downtown central business district.

The Lapeer commission’s decision was huge. It will forever change the community as it could become a regional hub of medical marijuana activity if all six permitted dispensaries and associated businesses open. There is a lot of interest to locate grow facilities in Lapeer; such facilities can be located only in areas zoned for industry.

The medical marijuana industry is gaining a foothold in Lapeer at a time when a majority of Michigan voters support the legalization of recreational marijuana, according to a new poll showing that support is far stronger among residents who have personally used the drug.

The poll seems to reflect the national trend of increasing support for marijuana legalization, according to the Pew Research Center, which reported in January that 61 percent of Americans now support legalization compared with 31 percent in 2000.

But it’s complicated.

Every state that’s made moves to legalize or regulate marijuana are technically in violation of federal law, which classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug and prohibits its sale and use. A largely hands-off approach to state marijuana activity during the President Barack Obama administration allowed state-legalized industries to blossom, though there’s signals that may change.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has suggested he’d like to take a different approach to states that have legalized marijuana use, but it’s unclear whether Congress and public sentiment will let that happen.

The new medical marijuana businesses in Lapeer will bring in not only revenue for the city from licensing application fees — up to $5,000 for each application — but property tax revenue and a portion of the 3-percent excise tax that will be charged on medical marijuana sales. That’s good news, and while the revenue amount is unknown, the money is certainly needed. It should be plowed into Lapeer’s local street fund to repair crumbling residential streets.

We commend Almont and Lapeer officials for welcoming medical marijuana businesses into their communities, nearly 10 years after residents overwhelmingly voted for access to the drug.

That’s not to say there aren’t concerns, because there are many. The medical marijuana industry is expected to expand rapidly. A House Fiscal Agency projects sales will grow to $837 million annually.

Law enforcement is uneasy about the cash-centric nature of medical marijuana, as the businesses and couriers may be targeted by thieves.

That’s an issue that could be easily remediated by a federal government approach that recognizes medical marijuana in the same way states do, and allowing those businesses access to the banking facilities other legitimate businesses — including pharmacies and liquor stores — are able to use.

We’ll be watching the advent of medical marijuana businesses in Lapeer County with interest — and reporting our findings — as the new businesses, their clients, local law enforcement and community leaders navigate together in a new era.

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