By Sherrema Bower
A proposed new city ordinance designed to govern area marijuana dispensaries took a step forward Oct. 24 as the Flint Planning Commission held a required public hearing on a draft of the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act Ordinance.
The draft was presented by Kevin Schronce, lead planner at the City of Flint.
Following the hearing, the Planning Commission went into executive session, but did not indicate a recommendation. Schronce said the planning commission will further consider the ordinance after the Nov. 7 elections.
Once the Planning Commission is finished reviewing the ordinance and agrees on a final draft, it will forward its recommendation to the Flint City Council who ultimately approve or disapprove it.
According to Commissioner Elizabeth Jordan, the proposed ordinance is a response to a new state law addressing commercial grow operations, secure transporting, and testing/processing facilities. Jordan said because “Flint’s existing medical marijuana ordinance was adopted prior to the new state law,” the draft under consideration takes into account the new uses and regulations associated with the change in state law.
Flint attorney Brenda Williams offered testimony about the ordinance, which allows for 20 licenses for provisioning / dispensing centers within the Flint city limits. The 20, she said, should include the current 13 dispensaries grandfathered in under the old law and approved to date by the Planning Commission — and allow for seven new ones.
Although Flint had a local ordinance for medical marijuana dispensing facilities, according to the Michigan Supreme Court, dispensaries were illegal but still allowed under local laws. The new law requires a $300,000 capitalization up front in order to open a dispensary. Williams called for consistency concerning dispensaries already in existence and those being established under the new law.
Buffers, definitions considered
Federal law requires a 1,000-foot buffer from schools, a provision Williams said she supported. However, she said she thought the footage is excessive when it comes to churches and parks and asked the commission to consider lowering that requirement. She said ordinances in Lansing and elsewhere allow for shorter distances from churches and parks.
She also suggested that a “park” be better defined. “If it has playground equipment, barbeque pits, or grills,” she said, “then that’s a park. But to have a piece of land that is there idle” requires review.
Finally, the ordinance proposes that the Planning Commission and Zoning Coordinator make certain decisions, which would give the Planning Commission exclusive authority, Williams said. To her, this violates due process. She said the ordinance should allow for more than just the Planning Commission to approve the dispensaries, she said.
Williams concluded her remarks by saying that the Planning Commission should consider ordinances from other jurisdictions to ensure the proposed revision for the city would be in line with best practices.
Pot is Schedule One, having “no medicinal use” by definition
City Charter Commissioner Marsha Wesley brought a dissenting viewpoint from her perspective as a pharmacist. She argued that marijuana still holds a Schedule One status and Schedule One drugs are by definition illegal, and according to the definition have no medicinal use. She urged the Planning Commission to further explore.
Business owner Nathan Kaufman spoke in support of the ordinance, saying that for eight years, he has been a legal card-carrying caregiver for others who were sick and assured the Planning Commission that marijuana does indeed hold medicinal qualities.
Citing the Detroit market, which he said is bringing in “millions,” Kaufman admonished the Planning Commission that marijuana laws are constantly changing and they should make themselves ready.
Pot is “god-given” another speaker suggests
China Polite, President of Genesee Northland Gardens Neighborhood Watch Program, also spoke in defense of medicinal marijuana. “It is god-given,” she said, “and comes in the form of a seed, just like any natural fruit or vegetable. Vice versa, when we look at various pharmaceutical drugs, which are made in a business like Parke-Davis, all of these are chemicals that [have the potential to] affect a person in a negative way.”
Calling for further testing, Polite said, “I don’t smoke, but there’s people that may need it, or would like to use something that actually promotes good health , allow more citizens to be healthier…and have a more proficient life.”
Finally, Schronce said he agreed with Attorney Williams and finds it appropriate to grandfather in the thirteen existing dispensaries, providing them with a six-month window to obtain their required licensing by the state. Dec.15, he said, is when applicants will be permitted to submit their applications and new licenses would be issued in May, 2018.
“It’s pretty clear,” he said, “that the state is going to be inundated and may continue to slowly leak information to prospective individuals and to municipalities who are trying to stay [within legal boundaries].” Schronce concluded, “We think it’s a solid ordinance that affects the quality of a lot of Flint residents’ lives.”
Pot could help the city’s finances, attorney suggests
In a post-meeting interview, Williams said marijuana “is here. It could help Flint too from a financial standpoint, but we have to start looking at [dispensaries] from a business perspective.”
“The City of Flint is in control of where [the dispensaries] are located, and the municipality is in control of the zoning.”
She explained the process is for the municipality to first “opt in” by sending a letter to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). Then, the city has 90 days to present its ordinance to the state.
Wesley stated after the meeting that without regulating marijuana, “we don’t know what’s in it.” Williams called for a medical marijuana advisory panel with a variety of representatives having differing perspectives. “Because this is a public policy issue, on the panel, we need someone from the community, [and perhaps] a pharmacist, a businessperson, someone affiliated with the police, a legislator, a doctor” and others.
Information about the new medical marijuana facilities licensing act ordinance, is available at https://www.cityofflint.com/wp-content/uploads/50.9.04.1-Medical-Marihuana_updated-10.23.17.pdf
Planning Commission meetings, held on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month, are open to the public. More about the Planning Commission and the work they do is available at https://www.cityofflint.com/planning-and-development/planning-and-zoning-2/.
EVM staff writer Sherrema Bower can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.