After being postponed several times over the course of the past seven months, Ann Arbor City Council passed two medical marijuana ordinances on June 20 that establishes zoning and cultivation regulations in the city.
The ordinances, which passed in an 8-2 vote, sets specific zoning guidelines for medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities in the city and calls for a maximum of 20 licenses to be given to dispensaries during the first year, with a licensing board determining the allowance of additional applicants.
Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) — one of the primary forces behind the legislation — said she is content with the ordinances, largely because city governments often follow the lead of other political entities, rather than formulating more non-traditional policy.
“It was difficult because there isn’t a model for medical marijuana — not for licensing and not for zoning … we didn’t know what would work, in other words,” she said.
Briere added she didn’t see a need for changes in zoning or licensing policies until Ann Arbor City Attorney Stephen Postema proposed that council specify the specifics regarding the issue of permitting medical marijuana in the city.
Sandi Smith (D–Ward 1) — another strong proponent of the ordinances — said the while the process was extensive, she felt it was necessary in order to develop legislation that best serves Michigan residents on an issue they find significant.
“I support it because it’s something that the state of Michigan voters have indicated is important to them,” she said.
Smith added that city council spent more than a year debating the issue because she feels the state did a poor job in laying out the city’s responsibilities in regards to medical marijuana policy.
Mike Anglin (D–Ward 5) echoed Smith’s sentiments, saying that the city had little state guidance on these ordinances and that he was particularly pleased with the anonymity clause that ensured caregivers’ names would not be recorded with the city.
However, Anglin said he would like to eventually see additional work done to the zoning ordinance because, while it guarantees that no marijuana will be sold near grade schools, it does not factor in preschools and other childcare facilities.
City Council members Stephen Rapundalo (D–Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (D–Ward 4) voted against the ordinances, and Tony Derezinski (D–Ward 2) was absent for the vote.
Rapundalo said he voted against the ordinances because he believes the discrepancy between local and federal law may potentially hinder the council’s approved plans. He added he would have liked to wait and see what the state policy would be regarding this issue, as they will also be working on similar legislation.
Rapundalo added that he voted against the ordinances because they didn’t include enough regulation to protect neighborhoods.
Dennis Hayes, an Ann Arbor attorney with a background in drug-related legalities, said the ordinances took a long time to pass because the council started with “highly regulated” legislation and that eventually became more lenient as council realized certain technicalities may impede patients from seeking help from caregivers.
The recently approved ordinances were an attempt to demonstrate that the city would be stricter in regards to marijuana than it has been in the past, Hayes said.
He added that because the topic is usually taboo in politics — except in more presumably liberal cities like Ann Arbor and Berkeley — politicians strive to adhere anti-marijuana policy.
However, he argued that politicians should discuss it more openly, noting 74 percent of people in Ann Arbor voted for legalizing medical marijuana in 2008, more than the percentage who voted for Obama in the presidential election.
“It’s somewhere between stupid and ignorant how we treat medical marijuana and marijuana in general,” he said.
Chuck Ream, owner of the dispensary MedMAR Pharmaceuticals Inc., said that while he has some concerns about the published document, Ream praised the council for stepping out of their comfort zone and learning all about the medical marijuana industry before voting on the finalized ordinances.
“It was a good process because the council was learning all the way … When they learned something new, they made changes,” he said.