Officials discuss city's pot licensing

By Sydney Berger, For the Daily
Published October 27, 2011

Though the Ann Arbor’s Medical Marijuana Licensing Board has received at least 10 medical marijuana dispensary applications since August, it has yet to grant any licenses.

In its second meeting, the board met in the conference room of Ann Arbor City Hall yesterday to discuss the implications and amendments to the licensing and zoning medical marijuana ordinances that were passed in June.

City Attorney Stephen Postema said at the meeting that the board is still discussing the legality of the dispensaries’ actions. The city doesn’t want to halt the application process, but would like a thorough discussion before making any decisions, he said.

“There are aspects of the dispensary model that certainly make sense,” Postema said. “Again, it is a big square peg trying to fit in the small round hole of this statute. I want to disabuse anybody of the notion that the staff here is working hard to prevent things.”

The dispensaries that opened before the city’s temporary moratorium — that went into effect in August 2010 and preceded the ordinance — are encouraged to apply before others, though they are not guaranteed licenses, Postema added.

The board members also discussed their concerns with the zoning districts laid out in the ordinance. Despite the city’s compliance with state regulations on medical marijuana, the state leaves zoning up to local governments.

He added that there will continue to be higher level discussions surrounding the city’s ordinances and the state’s Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which made medical marijuana legal for registered patients in 2008.

Postema said he is committed to enforcing legislation, but added that he is “distressed” with some of the inefficiencies he has seen in the state law.

“The city is in a difficult position because when you think about it, the act of licensing and using the government to license something raises some problematic issues for us,” he said. “I know it is a disappointment, and I am not here to apologize for the law. The law is imperfect, and the law can be changed and I would encourage the law to be changed.”

City Council member Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) — a supporter of the ordinance — said in an interview after the meeting that the changes in policy over the past few months have caused confusion among board members regarding state and city medical marijuana regulations.

“The most interesting thing to me was the endorsement of a local option for dispensaries — a change in the state law to create that local option,” Briere said. “Because if that local option were to pass at the state level ... we in Ann Arbor, and governments in Lansing and Ypsilanti, and any of the communities around the state that have passed local licenses or zoning ordinances, are going to be able to figure out what the heck they’re doing.”

She added the confusion stems from the fact that the city usually looks to federal and state legislation when writing new laws.

“The problem is that every metaphor relies on higher government legislation and the higher government has no word on dispensaries,” Briere said. “In the zoning ordinance, unless it’s specifically allowed, the distribution of medical marijuana is prohibited.”

Jim Kenyon, a medical marijuana patient appointed to the city’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Board, said during the meeting he appreciated that Postema attended the meeting to hear the concerns of medical marijuana advocates.

“We need to find a way that gets through this with the least carnage, and that’s most expedient and lets us live our gentle bohemian state lives in Ann Arbor,” Kenyon said.

Correction appended: A previous version of this article misidentified who spoke about higher government legislation. It was Sabra Briere. The article also incorrectly stated there are inefficiencies with the city's statues.