Marijuana moratorium extended by commission

April 26, 2010
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Grand Rapids city commissioners recently added a two-month extension to a moratorium on issuing licenses and permits to dispense medical marijuana. Commissioners created the freeze in November and were asked to extend it by four months.

But they felt they couldn’t make cancer patients wait for another 120 days, so they compromised with the city’s Planning Department and the City Clerk’s office and agreed to a 60-day extension.

“I was a reluctant supporter of the six-month moratorium. I don’t support an extension of that moratorium,” said Mayor George Heartwell, who unenthusiastically went along with the extension.

“We can’t leave people in limbo for much longer. I support two months, but that’s it,” he added.

The issue revolves around creating the proper language to define and regulate the dispensation of medical marijuana, something the city has never had to do before, and that task falls to the clerk’s office.

But the office is short-staffed due to earlier layoffs and is preparing for the May 4 election, which has the city’s request for an income-tax increase on the ballot, and can’t meet the moratorium’s initial deadline of May 15. Also, a public hearing has to be held on the matter.

“This is a brand new one and we will have to establish the amount of time we need. We’ve been trying to plug away at this, along with other issues,” said City Clerk Laurie Parks, who added that she has been researching the language needed to write the requirements.

City Planning Director Suzanne Schulz said the city didn’t learn from the state that the clerk’s office had to write the licensing requirements until late February or March. Schulz added that six city departments, including hers, have been involved in creating the ordinance — which is a two-phase effort.

Commissioners approved the first stage of that effort last month when they added a registered medical marijuana caregiver as a home occupation to the city’s zoning ordinance. City Attorney Catherine Mish said that ordinance, though, can’t go into effect until the permit and licensing requirements are in place. Those requirements must include such things as how the applications will be routed, what the fees will be, and who will be part of the approval process.

“We’re one of the first ones out of the gate to deal with this,” said Schulz. “We want to be sensitive to home occupations and we don’t want to over-regulate them.”

Until the requirements are established and approved, the clerk’s office can’t issue licenses and there is expected to be two classes of licenses. Under the moratorium’s extension, the new deadline is July 15.

“We will come back to you with a license language and a process in place,” Schulz told commissioners. “The goal is that it won’t take that long. We don’t want to come back to you (for another extension).”

Voters legalized the growth, dispensation and use of medical marijuana statewide in the November 2008 election, but the ballot measure didn’t spell out all the requirements that cities must establish.

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