At last night’s Ann Arbor City Council meeting, city leaders discussed how to handle medical marijuana dispensaries as Michigan cities continue to struggle to interpret the state’s imprecise medical marijuana law.

City Council decided to table discussion of amending the city’s medical marijuana licensing ordinance until mid-June and also voted to delay deciding on a resolution to protect dispensaries from license enforcement until a future meeting. City Council did, however, direct the Ann Arbor City Planning Commission to consider revising the zoning ordinance requirements for medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities.

During the meeting, City Attorney Stephen Postema said dispensaries should be licensed by City Council before the council determines zoning. He added that current state law requires all dispensaries to be licensed before zoning.

“The body of law that has developed right now, I think, is more restrictive than certain people of the (medical marijuana) community would want,” Postema said.

Councilmember Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3) said the resolution directing the Planning Commission was distinct from the delayed proposed amendment to the city code.

“The difference here is the ordinance is already in place by law,” Taylor said. “Any change to this or the zoning ordinance should go to the Planning Commission first and come back with a recommendation.”

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said council was wasting too much time on the medical marijuana issue because deliberation in the state Legislature could change state law in the near future.

“We’ve spent way too much time on this issue,” Hieftje said. “I lay that at the feet of the Legislatures in Lansing because they have totally dropped the ball and have failed to provide consistent guidelines for local governments.”

The discussion of the legality of medical marijuana facilities in Ann Arbor returns to City Council after two Ann Arbor-based medical marijuana facilities were raided by regional authorities last August.

Drew Driver, a former medical marijuana dispensary owner from Gaylord, Mich., spoke during the public commentary section of the City Council meeting and said Ann Arbor’s decision will set an example for the rest of the state.

“A lot of other municipalities look to Ann Arbor … If you can get these zoning ordinances passed and put through, there’s going to be a lot of other local cities that look to you guys as leaders on this issue,” Driver said.

In an interview during the meeting’s recess, Driver said he closed his dispensary because he feared facing criminal action.

Instead, he said he now travels around the state advocating for the protection of medical marijuana dispensaries.

“I have since voluntarily shut my doors because I work in Lansing. I come to these things and I speak. Basically, I’m scared,” Driver said. “Basically it was (Michigan Attorney General) Bill Schuette’s personal threats. He was the lead opposition to the law before he was attorney general.”

Driver said the legality of dispensaries in Michigan has been unclear from the start, citing his own personal experience in Gaylord as an example.

“They’re operating with the blessing of the city and the county but without actual license. When we all opened, we looked at the law, we picked apart different parts of the law as to why it’s allowed,” Driver said. “It says a medical marijuana patient is allowed to purchase medical marijuana without fear of arrest, it doesn’t say that he has to do it from this guy at this time.”

Driver said the public hasn’t had a problem with dispensaries in Ann Arbor or anywhere in the state.

“There’ve been absolutely no complaints. Same in my town, there’ve been no complaints,” Driver said. “That’s odd. The amount of complaints that happen from bars and liquor stores are huge, and there just haven’t been any (with medical marijuana dispensaries).”

Driver said the vague nature of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act has allowed Schuette to crack down on dispensaries.

“If you look at what we actually voted on as voters in 2008, it was half a paragraph,” Driver said.

Driver said the inaction hurts medical marijuana’s sickest users the most.

“We made sure to keep our phone going. We stayed open for an additional three months after we closed. We stayed open to help people find caregivers. But even that’s about impossible,” Driver said. “The thing is, it really affects the people that really truly need it.”

—Jenny Hinkle contributed to this report.

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