Clinton Township moves forward with new medical marijuana laws

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published December 6, 2017

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Clinton Township took a step toward opting in to new medical marijuana laws approved by the Michigan Legislature.

On Nov. 27, the Clinton Township Board of Trustees voted 4-2 to move forward with zoning ordinances in relation to the new Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act, or MMFLA, which was voted in by state lawmakers. State law officially changes Dec. 15.

MMFLA introduces five kinds of licenses: grower, processor, provisioning center, secure transporter and safety compliance center.

Growing, or cultivation of medical marijuana, is organized into three classes: growing up to 500 plants, 1,000 plants or 1,500 plants. Processing relates to extraction, which involves taking the product and extracting oils for patients who may have epilepsy or multiple sclerosis. Provisioning centers are more commonly known as dispensaries. Secure transporters move the product, while safety compliance centers use an independent testing lab to assess the product.

In a letter to the board prior to the meeting, Clinton Township Supervisor Bob Cannon said he felt “uninformed” when MMFLA was first approved. An issue for him was that MMFLA runs parallel to the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which was approved in 2008 by 62.67 percent of voters — including 62.85 percent of Clinton Township residents.

Cannon requested previously that the board approve the creation of a Medical Marijuana Ordinance Exploratory Committee to research the MMFLA — known legally as Act 281 of 2016. The board is composed of Cannon, Clinton Township Treasurer Paul Gieleghem, Clinton Township Clerk Kim Meltzer, Clinton Township Planning Director Carlo Santia, Clinton Township Attorney Jack Dolan and Clinton Township Deputy Supervisor Liz Vogel.

The committee met nine times between May 31 and Oct. 25, including an Aug. 29 public discussion at Macomb Community College that included a lobbyist, an attorney and an internal medicine specialist.

“When we started the committee process, I was trying to convince myself and everyone else that we should not be going into this at all,” Cannon said during the meeting. “I was dead set against it. I grew up in an era where it was different than what it was now. It wasn’t medical; it was illegal.”

He added that in his nearly two decades of being supervisor, the topic of medical marijuana has caused a lot of concern.

At the Nov. 27 meeting, Gieleghem — who, along with Trustee Mike Keys, voted against opting in — said he had “significant concerns” about moving forward with the measure. He said he listened to committee meetings and to testimony of advocates and adversaries, toured dispensaries and grow facilities, and talked to Lansing lobbyists who represented interests of aspiring marijuana entrepreneurs and individuals with acute medical conditions.

He said that since the law passed in 2008, “it’s been the wild west” because marijuana is still a federal Schedule I narcotic.

“We’ve got this federal law that says ‘illegal,’ and a state law approved by the voters that says it’s perfectly acceptable. … While I have no philosophical objections to marijuana and I understand and recognize that this is a medicine, I don’t know that opting in at this point — with the uncertainties that I’ve mentioned — is the right way to go for right now,” Gieleghem said.

Meltzer was hesitant due to the effects on children and local law enforcement.

“Everyone’s talking about how much money this is going to bring into a community,” Meltzer said. “I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but once you pull the trigger, well then, you’re kind of stuck with whatever it is that you’ve decided.

“It’s only after that time do you see, well, maybe this isn’t a cash cow that everyone says it going to be.”

Dolan said the board’s motion is essentially a referral to the Clinton Township Planning Commission and the Clinton Township Planning Department, with results later being presented to the board as part of a proposal. Until then, public hearings and board members’ positions can theoretically change things.

“Until we actually enact an ordinance, we’re not opting in or opting out,” Dolan said.

Since the new law kicks in Dec. 15, Santia warned that the township could lose out in a monetary sense.

“We lose our opportunity to get some instant economic development — getting it now as opposed to rolling the dice and waiting six months, a year, and losing that opportunity because the people that are going to get into the business are going to get into the business in other communities,” Santia said.

Thomas Levine, an attorney with Cannabis Council, highly encouraged the more regulated state licensing system, which requires testing, labeling and assuring safety.

“There’s been a lot of myths propagated through the years, so it takes a while as a community to get over those,” Levine said. “As it’s panning out, opioid deaths have decreased 28 percent in states that have legalized marijuana. We’re amidst an opioid crisis. That should be the end of the discussion right there.”

Resident Rick Doyle is a medical patient who has used the substance for years. After quitting cigarette smoking 30 years ago, he chooses to ingest marijuana in the form of edibles.

“I’ve lived here two years now. The Police Department is wonderful, the Fire Department, the whole city does a hell of a good job,” said Doyle, who added that he gets oil shipped in from California or drives to Lansing for products twice per month. “I’d like to keep my money in Clinton Township.”

After the meeting, Cannon said the board’s decision provides the best route for the community in terms of having sources close to home that are trustworthy, regulated and price-conscious. 

It’s a decision that was tough for him to make, considering his past reservations, he said.

“I changed,” Cannon said. “I don’t know when I changed, but I firmly believe in medical marijuana now, for those who are in need of it.”

There is no current timetable for when the issue will be taken up by the Planning Department.