Amid State-Level Fight Over Legality Of Operations

Ypsilanti’s medical marijuana dispensaries can continue to operate for another year with the city’s approval.

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Now, all parties will see what 2012 holds at the state level for the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act of 2008. Dispensaries and commercial grow operations aren’t addressed in the legislation and have been at the center of the debate between proponents and those seeking to limit the act.

In December, city staff relicensed all four Ypsilanti dispensaries and one grow operation that has yet to open. City Planner Teresa Gillotti said there have not been issues at any of Ypsilanti’s dispensaries and they all passed licensing inspections from multiple city departments.

“We haven’t had any problems with police calls or anything of that nature, so we’re going to continue until there’s a little more clarity from the state or courts on how we should proceed one way or the other,” she said.

The city took months in determining how to regulate dispensaries through zoning and licensing ordinances.

Because of local zoning restrictions put in place by staff and City Council, twelve dispensaries could potentially open in Ypsilanti, but only four have done so over the past year.

The 3rd Coast Compassion Center at Hamilton and Pearl streets was the first dispensary in Michigan to open and the first in the state to receive a dispensary license from a local municipality in June.

Although there have been multiple raids at medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state last year, including at two Ann Arbor facilities, Jamie Lowell, a partner at 3rd Coast, said that his business has never closed.
He praised Ypsilanti for working with the medical marijuana community while developing zoning ordinances.

“The city has been great,” he said. “We feel very proud to be here and we think that it’s a progressive, open-minded city. That’s how they’re acting with this issue.”

Lowell and medical marijuana advocates’ issues have been with State Attorney General Bill Schuette, who campaigned against the MMMA prior to serving as attorney general and has sought to restrict and limit the act since being elected.

Lowell is part of the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers (MACC), which charges Schuette’s interpretation of the MMMA limits its intent – to provide easily accessible medicine to patients who need it. Advocates say that includes allowing patients access through dispensaries and commercial operations.

MACC is supporting the concept of a local option that would leave regulating dispensaries and grow operations to local municipalities.
Lowell said that would help solve local municipalities’ dilemma over how to handle commercial operations.

“A city or town could decide to take advantage of the economic development opportunities and embrace the allocation of commercial space as Ypsilanti has done. The safe access points such as 3rd Coast would then be recognized by the state,” Lowell said. “This would make a lot of things much easier for municipalities struggling with what to do and what they can do.”

Voters in all but one ward in Ypsilanti approved the MMMA by at least 80 percent.

“There seems to be majority support in most cities and towns by the local leaders to respect the will of their constituents and help to carry out the purpose of the law, but the uncertainty and misinformation from the attorney general’s office and elsewhere makes it a much more difficult task than it really should be,” Lowell said.

Proposed draft legislation circulating in Lansing states “a dispensary that has been granted a municipal registration or license, or that is otherwise allowed by municipal law, and the dispensary’s dispensary agents acting on its behalf, shall not be subject to criminal penalties under any state law …. “

It continues with variations of some of the regulations that are included in Ypsilanti’s zoning ordinance, such as prohibiting dispensaries from operating in residential zones.

The draft legislation is one of dozens of pieces of legislation related to the MMMA that are at various stages in the legislative process, and the Michigan Supreme Court will soon hear several cases.

Until a final decision on dispensaries arrives from the state, Ypsilanti will continue down a cautious path, Gillotti said.

“We’re continuing monitoring what’s going on with a variety of court cases and we’ve seen a few opinions come down,” she said. “We feel that the dispensaries in Ypsilanti are complying as much as they’re able to, but it’s still very murky.”


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Author: Tom Perkins
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