Guest Column

It’s 4:20: Where is your municipality?

July 28, 2017
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In five months, Michigan will begin accepting license applications for medical marijuana dispensaries. Is your municipality ready?

With very few exceptions, the answer is probably not.

As I shared in a column last fall, our state enacted the Michigan Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act in September 2016 with an eye to providing some order around 2008 voter-enacted legislation that permitted the use of marijuana for medical purposes — but offered little else in the way of guidance. The MMFLA, which went into effect in December 2016, established a clear path for commercialization by establishing the proper chain of custody, delivery and taxation of medical marijuana to proper patients.

But the MMFLA will not turn Michigan nor its municipalities into the Wild West when it comes to medical marijuana. The law is specific and structured, requiring that any municipality permitting the commercial distribution of marijuana will have enacted specific ordinances that govern its distribution and sale.

These so-called “opt-in” provisions authorize everything from grow and processing licenses to provisioning centers and secured transport operations. At a cool, nonrefundable $5,000 per license, municipalities that open the doors to medical marijuana stand to gain financially. 

Opt-in or no-go?

To date, though, only a few municipalities have adopted ordinances permitting medical marijuana operations. The first appears to be Pinconning Township in Bay County, which authorized nearly 70 licenses in January of this year — even though it’s highly unlikely they all would be tapped on Day 1.

Other municipalities that have opened their doors include Webberville, Ferndale and Ann Arbor. These cities took advantage of the opt-in provision under the MMFLA to enact zoning ordinances that comply with state law.

Closer to home, it appears only Crockery Township in Ottawa County has taken the first steps to consider an ordinance. Township commissioners began consideration of a zoning amendment at its June meeting and expect to continue with discussion this month.

While only a few Michigan municipalities have moved forward into this tax base, a new and recurring presence at local township and city council meetings has been advocating for the adoption of ordinances. Citizens have begun appearing during public comment to indicate interest in opening dispensaries and other operations. Their voices have been supported by patients who use medical marijuana and are publicly lobbying to have it available in West Michigan.

These citizen advocates appear to be making the local rounds, asking commissions and councils to put medical marijuana on an upcoming agenda and promising to bring facts, figures and more supporters.

Local law enforcement agencies are less than enthusiastic about the possibility of bringing legalized grow and dispensing operations to West Michigan. They point to the disconnect between state law, which permits medical usage of marijuana, and federal law, which still bans all possession and use of marijuana. The new U.S. Attorney General has not cleared the air on this matter in any regard. They also cite convincing statistics that link various crimes to drug use — and to a lack of a reliable measurement tool to gauge when someone is driving “under the influence.”

What happens if municipalities don’t opt-in? Under the MMFLA, they can simply do nothing — and medical marijuana facilities will not be allowed.

Buffer zones and restrictions

It’s safe to say regulations will continue to evolve over the coming months as municipalities continue to grapple with the new law. Pinconning, for example, requires medical marijuana facility operators to install surveillance cameras, security systems and a safe. It limits hours of operation and requires a buffer zone of 1,000 feet between a facility and churches, parks and schools. Anybody interested in what your municipality is considering, and what restrictions to impose, now is the time to be seen and heard — others already are.

This is a new industry for our state, and big dollars are purportedly at stake. The market is reacting. Advocates are pushing and have a state law to buoy their position. They’re lining up at the doors of township offices and city halls to plead their cases and ask for licenses.

Entrepreneurs and commercial property owners need to be prepared, and they need to understand what they can expect from the municipality where they live, work or own property. Municipalities need to address the issue now. It’s going to be 4:20 before you know it.

Robert J. Nolan is a partner at the law firm Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, where he counsels clients on complex commercial real estate development transactions. He can be reached at rnolan@wnj.com.

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