Council narrowly approves medical marijuana in Madison Heights

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published February 15, 2019


MADISON HEIGHTS — The Madison Heights City Council recently adopted a measure that paves the way for medical marijuana facilities to operate in the city. 

The ordinance, which passed 4-3 at the council’s regular meeting Feb. 11, allows for a limited number of medical marijuana facilities, including two each of approved Class C grower, processor and provisioning centers, as well as up to four secure transporter and safety compliance facilities. 

The ordinance restricts the safety compliance facilities to the city’s O-1 office business district, while the others are restricted to the M-1 light industrial and M-2 heavy industrial districts. 

None of the authorized medical marijuana facilities can be located within 500 feet of a school, church, child care home or residential district, except for the safety compliance facilities.

Mayor Brian Hartwell, Mayor Pro Tem Mark Bliss, and council members Roslyn Grafstein and Robert Corbett voted for the business ordinance, while council members David Soltis, Margene Scott and Bob Gettings voted against it.

Before it passed, Scott offered a substitute motion, proposing that the city prohibit the establishment and operation of any and all categories of marijuana businesses within its boundaries. Soltis supported the substitute motion. The substitute failed, splitting the council the same way. 

In expounding upon her concerns, Scott cited findings by the Michigan Transportation Research Institute and the National Highway Traffic Association that show an increased risk of traffic fatalities when driving under the influence of marijuana. 

She also raised concerns about modern marijuana’s increased potency; how increasing its availability may make it more likely to fall into the hands of minors; how there’s been a sharp increase in cases of murder, robbery, burglary, theft and auto theft in states that allow marijuana; how its use can have deleterious effects on one’s long-term health and academic success; and how it’s still not permitted by federal law. She also expressed skepticism that it will bring much money into the city. 

“Marijuana is now the No. 1 reason kids today enter treatment for substance abuse — more than alcohol, cocaine, heroin, meth, ecstasy and other drugs combined. It leads to a higher public health and financial cost for society,” Scott claimed. “And the main reason I want to prohibit marijuana in our city is because of the stress it will place on our Police Department. … I don’t think they need any more burdens than they already have.”

After the substitute motion failed, the original motion passed. In an email following the meeting, the mayor shared his thoughts on why he supported the ordinance. 

“We listened to dozens of residents (during public comment) who expressed passionate arguments for and against medical marijuana facilities in our city,” Hartwell said. “Many people described the painful details of living with (multiple sclerosis) and how they derive therapeutic benefit from medical marijuana. We also heard from a federal employee who works closely with U.S. veterans suffering from (post-traumatic stress disorder).

“In the end, I voted yes … from a place of compassion for the patients in and around our city who need this medicine. Others on council lectured the patients who were present about how their medicine would bring crime into our city. I refuse to judge the patients who use THC or CBD,” he said. “I feel compelled to initiate local laws and policies that represent the clearly articulated views of two-thirds of Madison Heights voters who supported medical marijuana in a 2008 vote, and who supported recreational marijuana in 2018.”

Corbett said that he also took guidance from the voters, but he still has concerns. 

“I’m supporting it from the compassion standpoint, for those who use it to relieve pain for physical or emotional purposes. They shouldn’t have to drive far — a location in Madison Heights is more convenient. And it will give access to whatever financial benefits are to come,” Corbett said. “But I’m skeptical of all the claims (about a financial windfall for the city). We heard it before with the lotto, for example — how it was going to completely repair our education system and make us the envy of the country. Well, how did that work out? We know those funds didn’t make it into the classroom.

“Here, I don’t think we’re going to have a whole rehab of large tracts of land in our community. That’s nonsense, since we’re talking about relatively soft use, the biggest being security,” he said. “Still, while I think it’s going to be an aggravation and taxing to some of our local resources, at the end of the day, the voters did say yes, at least to the concept. There is still an obvious and glaring conflict at the federal level (where it’s illegal), but no one’s enforcing it, and the state and voters have been clear in how they want us to proceed in general. So proceed we will.” 

Hartwell said that he wants to explore “emerging industries” and find a “balanced, uniquely Madison Heights approach” to medical marijuana.

“Actually, medical marijuana isn’t new to our city — it’s been in our neighborhoods and homes for decades. It’s only now that the city will legislate, control and profit from this medicine,” he said, describing the ordinance as a “cautious introduction” to the industry, and noting that the council will favor “well-funded and experienced applicants” with licensed professionals on staff.

“We are inviting business owners who have a lot more to lose if they make one mistake,” Hartwell said. “This will bring safety and accountability.”

The mayor is anticipating great things from the new legislation, with the potential for extensive redevelopment in the city’s aging industrial corridors, soaring property values at select industrial sites, and the hiring of local workers as favored by the ordinance, with hundreds of new jobs created in Madison Heights.

He also said that the most conservative estimates of 20 applicants at $5,000 per application will immediately bring the city $100,000, and that business insiders predict closer to 40-50 applicants in the first year.

But Corbett said that he cautions residents to keep their expectations in check. 

“I’m just concerned about promoting to the public that we’ll make a ton of money, because then they’ll be mad two years from now when we’re still talking about the same financial problems that we have today,” Corbett said. “I don’t see a financial windfall, so I’m hesitant to oversell this, but it is what it is: We’re doing it for compassionate reasons, on a limited scale. It’s what the voters wanted.”