In their bi-weekly meeting last Thursday, Ann Arbor City Council passed a 120-day moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries in the city as a last-minute addition to the meeting’s agenda.

The Michigan Medical Marijuana Act passed in 2008 does not mention dispensaries, leaving municipalities across the state to grapple with zoning and regulation issues. Ann Arbor is one of several cities, including Holland and Ypsilanti, to place a moratorium on new dispensaries in order to give the council time to fill the gap in the state law.

City Attorney Stephen Postema opened the council’s discussion by explaining why the resolution was put forth.

“The dispensary issue that has come up is nowhere contemplated in the state law,” he said. “It’s a problem for municipalities. That’s what they have to deal with. Whether it came as a moratorium or as a directive of the council, it’s entirely proper for the public health, safety and welfare for the council to consider the issue.

“One of the concerns that … the council will deal with is really the aggregation and the consolidation of many, many shops or dispensaries together,” he added. “This really caused a big problem in California.”

Postema directed his comments at the meeting attendees, who were visibly frustrated by the timing of the resolution, which had been added to the agenda at 5 p.m. the previous night, leaving little time for the public to review the item.

Dennis Hayes, a local lawyer who now deals almost exclusively with medical marijuana issues, was the first of ten citizens to address the council in opposition to the resolution. He also made clear his suspicion of a hidden agenda.

“You all should know better than to do this stuff in secret,” he said.

Some members of the council, including Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1), Margie Teall (D–Ward 3) and Carsten Hohnke (D–Ward 5), said they were surprised by the last minute addition.

“Bringing this forward tonight, well actually last night, was a surprise to many of us because by rights we should’ve seen it last Friday. Our council rules say that as council members we should try very hard to bring forward our resolutions by Friday of the week before the council meeting occurs,” Briere said.

Hohnke said he suggested the council postpone the resolution until the following week. Briere supported his proposal, arguing that the public deserved time to look it over.

After some discussion, the council decided that it would be best to proceed with the resolution since it had already been brought to the table and delaying it would only push the moratorium further down the road.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Council Member Mike Anglin (D–Ward 5) said the discussion on the issue lasted for about an hour and a half, because it was the first time the council had addressed medical marijuana policy in a public meeting. Throughout the discussion, the council made a number of amendments to the resolution.

Council Member Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3) was the first to introduce several amendments to make sure individual patients and caregivers would still be allowed to grow and use marijuana as allowed by the state law during the four-month moratorium.

“The proposal,” he said, “does not seek to keep sick patients or their caregiver from the medicine that they require and is their right per state law.”

With the original resolution calling for a six-month moratorium, Council Member Sandi Smith (D–Ward 1) proposed that the council shorten the moratorium to 90 days, calling 180 days “punitive” and unnecessary with the availability of models of regulation proposed by citizens or already established in places like Traverse City.

The council compromised with 120 days at the suggestion of City Administrator Roger Fraser.

One decision that the council debated at length was whether the resolution should grandfather in pre-existing dispensaries, which would allow them to remain open until the end of the four months, at which point they too would be subject to the zoning regulations decided on during the moratorium.

Charles Ream, a prominent advocate in the medical marijuana community who is involved in the planning of a dispensary on Packard Road, urged the council at the beginning of the meeting to vote against the resolution, but at the very least allow current dispensaries to keep their doors open.

Briere argued in favor of the grandfather clause for the sake of patients in the community who already rely on dispensaries for their medicine.

Council Member Stephen Rapundalo (D–Ward 2) was the sole voice in opposition to the grandfather clause, saying all dispensaries should close unless they can convince the council in a public hearing that staying open would avoid economic harm to the city.

The council ultimately voted in favor of an amendment introduced by Taylor, specifying that the resolution apply only to “the initiation or expansion of” dispensaries on city property.

After the resolution passed, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje expressed his feelings on the resolution to the citizens in the room, saying he thought a moratorium was appropriate and reasonable.

“It does seem to me given what we’ve heard from our neighborhoods, it would not be a bad idea to step back, take a little time,” he said. “Don’t change a thing from the way it is now, but take a little time to decide how we will go forward.”

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