The Ann Arbor City Council continued its long and complex process of attempting to establish local medical marijuana legislation at its meeting last night.
The latest version of the city’s proposed medical marijuana ordinance went before City Council for a second first reading yesterday. If passed, the ordinance would abolish the city’s temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries that was put in place last August.
The ordinance originally underwent a first reading at a City Council meeting on Jan. 3. At its next meeting, which will be Feb. 21, the council should do a second reading on the ordinance and vote on it.
With little or no guidance from state law on how to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation facilities and home occupations, municipalities in various Michigan cities have struggled to create legislation dealing with the topic, especially since the legislation involves federally illegal activity.
During the public commentary at the beginning of the City Council meeting, medical marijuana advocate Rhory Gould talked about his frustration with the city’s current moratorium since it has now lasted more than 180 days but was supposed to last 120 days. Gould said City Council has spent too much time working on the ordinance.
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said it is necessary to outline specific details of the ordinance before it goes before the council for a first read. After an hour of discussing the ordinance, the meeting’s public attendees began to leave.
Twenty minutes later when the council moved to postpone discussion on the ordinance, a visibly frustrated Hieftje requested that the next time the ordinance appear before council it be in a “more appropriate” and finalized form than it was last night.
“It would be very helpful to have it days in advance,” he said, looking toward City Attorney Stephen Postema.
City Council member Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) led a lengthy discussion outlining the proposed amendments to the ordinance. She first moved to clarify the definitions for “cultivation facilities” and “authorized person,” which were approved by the council.
She also suggested that a combined dispensary and cultivation facility only require one license as opposed to two, comparing it to a brewpub that brews and sells its own beer but only requires a single license. The council also approved this motion.
Additionally, the council voted not to require physicians affiliated with dispensaries or cultivation facilities to be listed on the facilities’ licenses.
During the public commentary portion of the meeting, speakers expressed concerns that were less detail oriented and more focused on the big picture.
One speaker, Ann Arbor lawyer and medical marijuana activist Dennis Hayes, listed a number of concerns he had with the current draft of the ordinance, including a lack of flexibility in cultivation facility license transferability.
Another criticism Hayes had — which was shared by Chuck Ream, owner of MedMAR Pharmaceuticals Inc., a dispensary located on Packard Road — was that the ordinance doesn’t mention the 2004 amendment to the city charter that allows the growing and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Ream also expressed concern for the safety of patients and caregivers. Demanding that dispensaries list all caregivers who provide medical marijuana to their facilities is an unnecessary regulation, he said, that will “drive out the little guy.”
It’s dangerous, Ream said, to have a list of names for “criminals and junkies” to see.
Hieftje ended the council’s discussion of the ordinance by referring back to Ream’s comments about safety for people in the medical marijuana industry. Hieftje said he hopes the new ordinance will make it easy to shut down facilities that attract criminal activity.
Offering a different perspective, Tony Keene, owner and manager of a local store — that he said provides everything a medical marijuana caregiver would need — told the council members they should do away with dispensaries all together.
“Yes to medical marijuana, no to dispensaries,” Keene said. “It’s time to look at these dispensaries and shut them down because they’re giving a bad name to medical marijuana.”
In a passionate address to City Council, Keene said the patient and caregiver relationship is intact without dispensaries, and he personally chooses not to open a dispensary despite its profitability as “a million-dollar business in this town.”
Keene also criticized the council members for only speaking with dispensary owners and others involved in the industry instead of getting input from the public.
Longtime Ann Arbor resident Ethel Potts, a regular attendee at City Council meetings, said in an interview after last night’s meeting that she supports medical marijuana but doesn’t feel comfortable commenting on dispensaries because she knows little about them.
She did say, however, that she disagrees with the way City Council has dealt with the ordinance, criticizing the lengthy and detailed discussions that have taken place during meetings. The intricate details, she said, should be dealt with in committee meetings.
“It’s too important to do it this way,” she said. “I think they could do a better job in private … and then explain themselves in public.”
— Amy Henson contributed to this report.