Pubdate: Sun, 11 Jul 2010
Source: Battle Creek Enquirer (MI)
Copyright: 2010 Battle Creek Enquirer
Author: Barrett Newkirk

Pot Predicament


The city of Battle Creek nipped local medical marijuana operations in
the bud last week when commissioners voted to institute a six-month
freeze on any new businesses associated with the medicinal use of the

City leaders now have until January to finalize their take on a new
area of worry for all Michigan cities: the lawful distribution of pot.

Communities have three options when deciding how to handle medical
marijuana establishments, said Andria Ditschman, a shareholder and
vice president with the Hubbard Law Firm in Lansing, which has worked
with local governments on medical marijuana regulations.

Ditschman said municipalities can do nothing and rely on their
existing ordinances, they can ban medical marijuana all together like
the city of Livonia did or they can take Ditschman's preferred
approach and impose some regulations.

Location, Location, Location

Among the issues local officials face is deciding where medical
marijuana businesses should be allowed to open. Is any commercial area
OK? What about near a school or day care center?

And if the people licensed to grow medical marijuana, known as
caregivers, grow the plants in their homes, what can a city do to keep
possible traffic problems or crime at bay?

"The state act doesn't talk about local regulations at all," Ditschman
said. "How do you keep residential areas safe and at the same time not
infringe on the new law and the rights of people?"

One option is to keep medical marijuana businesses out of the city,
like Livonia did last year when officials passed an ordinance
outlawing any business not legal under federal law, which effectively
precludes any medical marijuana establishment.

A more common response is to pass regulations that control medical
marijuana through zoning or licensing requirements.

The city of Lansing is considering two ordinances, one for home-based
operations and another for so-called compassionate care centers.
Neither type of distribution location would be allowed to operate
within 1,000 feet of schools, colleges, playgrounds and other
locations where children gather.

Grand Rapids allows for only home-based businesses and has banned any
kind of commercial marijuana operation. The city of Kalamazoo is
looking at a similar ordinance.

Looking for Loopholes

A city ordinance may outlaw commercial dispensaries, but Ditschman
said determined and creative sellers can usually find ways around it.

"What we find is that a lot of the ordinances going into effect are
not carefully drafted," she said. "You really have to know what all
the actors are doing out there in order to write an ordinance like

She said many communities are ignoring the residential issues because
it's hard to address them without stepping on the rights set out in
Michigan's Medical Marijuana Act, which went into effect in April 2009.

The law says caregivers can provide marijuana for up to five patients
and grow up to 12 plants for each patient.

That could make it difficult for cities to enact their own limits on
the number of plants at a given location.

More reasonable and less prone to a court challenge, Ditschman said,
are limits on transactions or traffic, which can reduce some of the
negative aspects of having the operations located in residential areas.

A city also could try to limit the number of caregivers in one
location, but that can pose a problem because patients can be their
own caregivers, she said.

Any new zoning ordinance in Battle Creek would not affect existing
businesses like B.C. Hydro, which opened in January near 20th Street
and Territorial Road.

Limit the Restrictions

Joe Cain, a Bedford Township resident and chief operating officer of
the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association, said he supported keeping
medical marijuana businesses away from schools, but he didn't want to
see restrictions beyond that.

"I think if you start interpreting it as a moral issue, then you go
way off," he said. "The real moral issue here is that we're dealing
with sick people, with dying people."

He said the businesses try and stay discrete since only people
licensed to handle the drug need to know about them, and he said
violent crime at medical marijuana places hasn't been a problem.

"7-Elevens are robbed every day," he said.

The end result of any decision, he said, should be that patients are
able to get help.

Exercise Caution

Cain said Branch County was considering an ordinance that would have
made it almost impossible for a medical marijuana business to operate
anywhere in the county, but leaders there ultimately decided to do
nothing and defer to state law.

"I think we just have to be careful," Cain said. "What I've seen so
far from the Battle Creek council members is that they're very

A zoning ordinance will have to pass through the Battle Creek Planning
Commission before getting a final OK from the City Commission.

City Attorney Eileen Wicklund said the city will set up meetings with
medical marijuana proponents in the new few weeks to gather
suggestions and solicit ideas from city staff.

"We're certainly going to look at everything," she said, "because you
never know what good ideas are out there." 
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