Stories indexed with the term ‘Michigan Medical Marijuana Act’

Ann Arbor Marijuana Licenses: Who Decides?

At an April 2 meeting that lasted until midnight, the Ann Arbor city council handled several agenda items that could affect continued patient access to medical marijuana in Ann Arbor. The meeting also featured extensive public commentary on the topic of medical marijuana. In advance of publishing the full meeting report, The Chronicle offers this analysis of some of the medical marijuana-related issues that were discussed.

Most notably, the meeting featured remarks from city attorney Stephen Postema indicating that he believes medical marijuana dispensaries should not be in business now because they lack licenses: “… [dispensaries] can’t operate right now, they’re not allowed to operate at all – without a license.”

That contradicts the city’s ordinance, which allows dispensaries to operate while their license applications are still pending. (The city is still in the process of issuing its first licenses for dispensaries.) From the ordinance: “The medical marijuana dispensary may continue to operate pending final action on the application unless the Building Official determines that it must be closed for safety reasons.” When The Chronicle sent Postema an emailed query questioning the accuracy of his statement, he responded by insisting his statement was accurate. However, Postema declined to provide any foundation for his feeling that dispensaries lacking a license – even those with applications pending – are not allowed to operate by dint of having no license.

If dispensaries are assumed to be operating in violation of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, then they would not be allowed to operate – whether they had a license or not. However, at the April 2 meeting Postema did not identify a basis for such an assumption. He stopped short of describing an interpretation of a recent Michigan court of appeals ruling (the McQueen case) as banning all dispensaries, but said the ruling presented “severe difficulties” for dispensaries.

The council’s deliberations on Monday night can be understood in the context of a struggle between the city attorney’s office on the one hand, and some members of council and the medical marijuana licensing board. The struggle relates to who has the decision-making authority for awarding licenses, and when those licensing awards should be decided. From a formal, procedural point of view, it’s not an open question: The licensing board makes recommendations to the city council, which has the ultimate decision-making authority. The board has already recommended that licenses be awarded to 10 different dispensaries.

However, from a practical point of view, the council will act only under the advice of the city attorney’s office. Since the licensing and zoning ordinances were enacted by the city council last year, Postema has proceeded in a way that reserves a role for city staff in the licensing process that has an uncertain basis in the actual ordinances approved by the council. Revisions to those ordinances, meant in part to address some of those uncertainties, were part of the council’s April 2 agenda.

Here’s a summary of the outcome on medical marijuana issues at the April 2 meeting: (1) the council unanimously postponed consideration of licensing ordinance revisions until June 18 – the council’s second meeting that month; (2) on a 9-1 vote, the council approved giving direction to the city planning commission to review the zoning ordinance; and (3) on a 6-4 vote, the council tabled a resolution directing the city attorney to delay enforcement activities against dispensaries. A tabled resolution will demise if it’s not brought back off the table in six months.

Deliberations suggested in sum that the current arrangement in Ann Arbor, under which patients are still able to get medical marijuana from dispensaries, will persist at least until the city council votes on licenses. But the timing of that vote appears fairly uncertain, given the mixed signals currently being sent by the city attorney.

Provided in this article is analysis of some of the local issues related to medical marijuana licensing and zoning. The analysis culminates by showing how the interpretation of a single requirement in the city’s zoning ordinance – that dispensaries adhere to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act – makes a significant difference in who makes the practical decision on whether dispensaries receive a license and can legally operate, and where the burden of proof lies for MMMA conformance. [Full Story]

Medical Marijuana Licenses Up to Council

At its Jan. 31, 2012 meeting, Ann Arbor’s medical marijuana licensing board voted to recommend awarding 10 licenses for dispensaries – the same number that had submitted applications. Two of the license awards were recommended conditionally. Treecity Health Collective (1712 S. State St.) would need to move to a differently zoned district, and Greenbee Collective (401 S. Maple St.) would need to provide for adequate parking. The board also settled on some recommended changes to the city’s medical marijuana licensing ordinance.

Ann Arbor medical marijuana licensing board

Ann Arbor medical marijuana licensing board at its Jan. 31, 2012 meeting. Left to right: Sabra Briere, Jim Kenyon, Patricia O’Rorke, John Rosevear and Gene Ragland. (Photos by the writer.)

Both issues – the award of the licenses and the changes to the ordinance – will be up to the city council to decide. The licensing board’s recommendation and report had been due to the city council by Jan. 31, according to the council resolution passed in conjunction with last year’s enactment of the licensing ordinance. But at the city council’s Jan. 23, 2012 meeting, Ward 1 representative Sabra Briere gave her colleagues a heads up that the medical marijuana licensing board would be submitting its recommendations in early February instead.

The legislation enacted by the council on June 20, 2011 included provisions for licenses and zoning requirements. The zoning requirements played a role in the recommendation to award one of the 10 licenses conditionally. Treecity is located in a district zoned for office use, which does not permit medical marijuana dispensaries.

On Jan. 25, 2012, the city’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA) turned down Treecity’s appeal of the city’s decision to deny Treecity’s application for a zoning compliance permit – a necessary component of a license application. At the same meeting, the ZBA granted the same kind of appeal to another dispensary – Green Planet (700 Tappan St.).

The tension between the board’s work and the city attorney’s office is reflected in the fact that even as the board recommended the conditional award of a license to Treecity, the city attorney has served a lawsuit against the dispensary.

The tension was also reflected during the meeting itself, as assistant city attorney Kristen Larcom reminded the board that their purview, according to the city’s ordinance, is [emphasis Larcom's] to “send to City Council a proposed resolution recommending either approval or rejection of each complete license application.”

In the city’s view, Treecity’s application is not complete, because the city has denied a zoning compliance permit to the dispensary. However the board appeared to rely on the subsequent sentence of the ordinance: “A recommended resolution may set conditions for approval.”

Also at its Jan. 31 meeting, the licensing board recommended that the initial licensing fee be established at $1,100 with the annual renewal fee set at $350. [Full Story]

ZBA Grants 1 of 2 Medical Marijuana Appeals

At its Jan. 25, 2012 meeting, Ann Arbor’s zoning board of appeals heard two appeals from representatives of medical marijuana dispensaries, who had been denied a zoning compliance permit by the city. The ZBA granted one appeal (from Green Planet), overturning the decision of city staff, and rejected the other (from Treecity).

Both businesses were  seeking such a permit in order to apply for a medical marijuana dispensary license. The licensing board is scheduled to meet on Jan. 31 to make recommendations on the award of dispensary licenses. The denial of the one appeal means that nine of 10 total applications will be considered by the licensing board.

The Ann Arbor city council enacted zoning and licensing requirements for medical marijuana businesses on June … [Full Story]

Medical Marijuana: Local Board Eyes 2012

On Dec. 14, 2011, Ann Arbor’s medical marijuana licensing board met to continue deliberations on applications that the city has received for a limited number of medical marijuana dispensary licenses. At its Nov. 30 meeting, the board had taken an initial straw poll on one license application. Board members were favorably inclined to make a recommendation to the city council that a license be awarded to MedMarx at Arborside Compassion, located at 1818 Packard St.

Map fo 10 License applications

The city of Ann Arbor has received 10 applications from businesses seeking to be licensed as medical marijuana dispensaries. Their locations are indicated with the green pushpins. In January, the licensing board will decide whether to made recommendations to the city council to award licenses. (Image links to dynamic Google Map)

At its Dec. 14 meeting, the board continued to review materials that had been submitted to determine completeness of other applications, and heard an argument from a business owner that his application should be considered as a pre-moratorium business.

The moratorium had been imposed by the Ann Arbor city council on Aug. 5, 2010 for 120 days – it prohibited the future use of property inside the city for cultivation facilities or dispensaries, and was extended several times in the course of the council’s consideration of the medical marijuana issue. That consideration culminated on June 20, 2011 in the enactment of zoning and licensing requirements for medical marijuana businesses.

Ann Arbor’s local laws require that businesses operate in conformance with the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, which was enacted by statewide voter referendum in 2008. The city has explicitly required of applicants for dispensary licenses that they explain how their business conforms with the law, including an Aug. 23, 2011 court of appeals ruling that has been interpreted by many authorities to mean that no medical marijuana dispensaries are legal. [.pdf of the McQueen case ruling]. Based on remarks made at the Dec. 14 meeting, it appears that Ann Arbor’s city attorney is open to the possibility that dispensary business models may exist that do conform to the McQueen case ruling.

Recommendations by the board on the award of licenses, along with recommendations for any revisions to the ordinance, are due to be submitted to the city council by the end of January 2012.

The licensing board’s work comes even as some marijuana advocates have begun to recruit volunteers for an eventual petition drive that would seek an amendment to Michigan’s constitution to repeal the state’s general marijuana prohibition. If successful, such a constitutional amendment would appear to remove state-level legal hurdles to obtaining medical marijuana or operating a medical marijuana dispensary. However, the legal ability of federal agents to enforce federal drug laws would be unaffected by a change to Michigan’s constitution.

A sign-up sheet for people to indicate willingness to help with the petition campaign was passed around by audience members at the Dec. 14 licensing board meeting. To place the constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot, the beginning and end dates for the signature collection period (based on typical strategies used by petition initiatives and Michigan’s election law) translate to Jan. 12 and July 9, respectively. To qualify, 322,609 valid signatures would need to be collected.

The Jan. 12 petition start date comes a day after Michigan’s Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing arguments in two medical marijuana cases. One involves the growing of medical marijuana in an “enclosed, locked facility” (People v. King) and the other involves the timing of a physician’s recommendation that is needed to support a defense against prosecution (People v. Kolanek). [Full Story]

Medical Marijuana Board Straw Poll: Yes

On Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011, the medical marijuana licensing board in Ann Arbor, Mich., took something like a straw poll on a recommendation that the city award its first dispensary license – to MedMarx at Arborside Compassion, located at 1818 Packard St.

The form of the poll strongly resembled a vote by the board to recommend the dispensary for a license, leading some observers to conclude that the recommendation had been made. But a subsequent email from board member Sabra Briere indicated the board had voted that it “would have recommended MedMarx for a license, if they were making recommendations at that meeting.” Once the board takes a formal vote on the recommendations that it wants to make to the city council, the city council will still need to vote as well, in order for the license to be awarded.

Rosevear, Ragland, Kenyon

Ann Arbor medical marijuana licensing board members (left to right): John Rosevear, Gene Ragland and James Kenyon. They're perusing a letter from MedMarx at Arborside Compassion to the city of Ann Arbor, stating the dispensary's position on its compliance with the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act. (Photos by the writer.)

Ann Arbor’s medical marijuana licensing board was established as part of an ordinance regulating licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries, enacted by the city council on June 20, 2011.

The licensing ordinance was enacted at the same time as a zoning ordinance, which regulates where such businesses can be located in the city. The two pieces of legislation were enacted after more than a year of consideration and deliberations by members of the city council.

On Wednesday, the board considered seven out of a total of 10 license applications that had been submitted to the city. The remaining three are for businesses located in areas not zoned for medical marijuana businesses. However, at least two of those intend to ask for a review of the city’s decision to deny a zoning compliance permit (required as part of the license application) by the city’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA).

Besides the one application on which the board voted, four of the other six applications were determined to have met the requirement demonstrating that they were in operation before the council enacted a moratorium. That moratorium was established on Aug. 5, 2010 and prohibited establishment of any additional medical marijuana businesses in the city.

The board’s work on Nov. 30 came as attitudes on medical marijuana nationally, at the state level and locally are in flux. Nov. 30 was the same day that governors from the states of Washington and Rhode Island signed a petition appealing to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana has a drug having medical uses.

And the licensing board meeting came at the conclusion of a series of day-long seminars in different Michigan cities given on Nov. 16, 17, 29, and 30 by staff of Michigan State Attorney General Bill Schuette on how to enforce the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act. The seminars included the case law that has evolved – including the McQueen case, in which a Michigan court of appeals found that at least one business model for operating a dispensary is not consistent with the MMMA.

According to a report from The Saginaw News, Schuette’s “Clearing the Air” seminars were closed to the press. The materials provided at the seminars include a range of legal tools the attorney general believes can be used to prevent medical marijuana dispensaries from doing business. One of those tools is to apply laws on public nuisances to such businesses.

The city of Ann Arbor has sent cease-and-desist letters to medical marijuana dispensaries in the city threatening to take action against them as public nuisances. Cease-and-desist letters were received by a business as recently as Nov. 8. [.pdf of letter to zoning-non-conformant business][.pdf of letter to zoning-conformant business]

During public commentary at the licensing board meeting, local attorney Dennis Hayes noted a disconnect between (1) letters sent by Ann Arbor city attorney Stephen Postema to businesses threatening to shut them down, and (2) a licensing board that is implementing the new city ordinance on allocating licenses to medical marijuana businesses. Hayes described the situation as the “right hand doing something very different from the left hand.” Hayes encouraged the licensing board to move its “right foot to drag the left foot along.”

The board’s next scheduled meeting is Dec. 14 at 4 p.m. [Full Story]

Pot Laws Amended But Postponed Again

Ann Arbor city council meeting (May 2, 2011): The city council has postponed its final approval of two local medical marijuana laws at least until June 6. One law addresses zoning and the other handles licensing. With that postponement, the council stretched its formal consideration of medical marijuana regulation in the city to at least a year – it had held a June 7, 2010 closed session on the subject.

Stephen Kunselman Medical Marijuana Amendments

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) peruses a marked up copy of medical marijuana legislation. (Photos by the writer.)

On Monday, before the postponements, the council amended both medical marijuana laws, making changes to the versions to which they’d already given initial approval – all city ordinances must receive two affirmative votes at different meetings of the council. Based on the amendments approved Monday night, the votes taken on June 6 will likely count only as the first reading. If the council makes a substantive change to an ordinance after its initial approval, then the ordinance must receive an additional first reading.

Public commentary during the evening included remarks from several medical marijuana advocates, who have become a familiar cast of characters over the past year. One highlight of that commentary included corroboration of a 2004 sidewalk encounter – between a medical marijuana petition circulator and the city attorney – which had been described during public commentary at the council’s previous meeting.

Other public comment at Monday’s meeting focused on the upcoming fiscal year 2012 budget approval, with many of the remarks centered on human services funding. The council had a specific resolution on its agenda that would have allocated funding to local nonprofits that provide human services support – but the council decided to postpone the item. The funding level in the resolution would have been about 9% less than fiscal 2011 funding.

Remarks during the budget public hearing by the president of the local firefighters union focused on the number of deaths due to fire over time. During council communications, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), the chair of the council’s labor committee, reiterated a point he’s made before – that if unions make concessions on their contribution to the city’s health care plan, they can mitigate some (but not all) of the currently planned layoffs.

Public commentary at Monday’s meeting also featured remarks from county clerk Larry Kestenbaum on the following day’s single-issue election, along with an update on possible changes to state election law.

The council unanimously approved the site plan, development agreement, and brownfield plan for Packard Square, a residential development planned for the former Georgetown Mall property. Two days later, the county board of commissioners postponed their approval of items related to the Packard Square brownfield plan.

In other business, the council set a public hearing on a tax abatement for Sakti3; approved several interagency technology agreements that allow for partnership between the city, Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; and postponed consideration of some large vehicle purchases. The council was also introduced to Paul Krutko, new CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK, the local economic development agency.

Also at Monday’s meeting, Washtenaw County commissioner Yousef Rabhi explained how his interest in public service originated in connection with the Buhr Park Wet Meadow project, led by Jeannine Palms. Palms and others involved with the project, which began in 1996, were honored with a mayoral proclamation.  [Full Story]

Council Delays Pot, Takes Shots at DDA

Ann Arbor city council meeting (April 19, 2011): The city council delayed a second and final vote on two local laws that involve regulation of medical marijuana businesses in the city – one on zoning and the other on licenses.

Roger Fraser, Tom Crawford

Seated is Roger Fraser, who attended his last Ann Arbor city council meeting on April 19 as city administrator – he gave a formal presentation to the council of the FY 2012 budget. He’s chatting before the meeting with the city’s chief financial officer, Tom Crawford, who was appointed interim administrator later in the evening. He’s not telling Crawford: “Whatever you do, don’t let the council tie your hands, see?” (Photos by the writer.)

After public hearings on the two medical marijuana laws, the council did not deliberate long in deciding to postpone both votes until its next meeting, on May 2. Substantive amendments that had been presented to councilmembers late that day for consideration made them reluctant to attempt grappling with the amendments in detail. The May 2 vote on the two laws will likely count only as their initial approval, assuming the amendments are adopted at that meeting. The laws would then need an additional final reading after May 2 before they are enacted.

A tweak to the city’s panhandling ordinance was given its second and final approval at the April 19 meeting. That change to the existing ordinance had come as a recommendation from a task force that worked for six months on the issue, following up on a longer effort in the early 2000s that had led to adopting the language in the existing ordinance.

The longest deliberations of the night involved a resolution of instruction to the council’s “mutually beneficial” committee, which is currently negotiating a new contract under which the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority would continue to manage the city’s public parking system. The direction given to the committee was not to stay firm with its previous bargaining position, but rather to escalate the city’s expectations for revenues from the public parking system.

Previously, the city’s committee had taken the position that the city should receive 16% of gross parking revenues in the first two years of a 10-year contract, and 17.5% in remaining years. That compared with the DDA’s position that the city should receive a flat 16% across all years. But at the meeting, the council voted to direct its committee to take the position that the city should receive a flat 18%. The council’s deliberations included comments directed towards the DDA that could fairly be described as inflammatory.

Called to the podium to comment on the parking revenue figures and the DDA’s overall financial health was the city’s chief financial officer, Tom Crawford. Later in the meeting, Crawford was appointed interim city administrator, effective April 28. Current administrator Roger Fraser is leaving the post to take a job as a deputy treasurer for the state of Michigan.

Although councilmembers did not comment on it, Fraser was attending his last meeting of the council as city administrator. And in his final major act, he gave a formal presentation to the council of his proposed fiscal year 2012 budget, as required by the city charter. The charter stipulates that the council will need to amend and approve the budget by May 16, its second meeting that month. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Delays Medical Marijuana Votes

At its April 19, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council postponed votes on both the zoning and licensing ordinances that were before the body for their final votes. The number of amendments that had been proposed by councilmembers and the city attorney’s office as late as the afternoon of April 19 led the council to delay the votes on both measures until May 2. If proposed amendments are passed on May 2, it would likely reset both ordinances to their first reading, which would require that they receive an additional second reading.

The medical marijuana zoning ordinance received its initial approval by the council at its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting.

The delay since the initial Oct. 18, 2010 zoning vote stems from the city of Ann Arbor’s strategy in legislating zoning and licensing of medical marijuana businesses – that strategy has been to bring both licensing and zoning before the city council at the same time for a final vote.

The context for development of zoning regulations was set at the council’s Aug. 5, 2010 meeting, when councilmembers voted to impose a moratorium on the use of property in the city for medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation facilities. The council also directed the city’s planning commission to develop zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses.

Subsequently, the city attorney’s office also began working on a licensing system. The council undertook several amendments to the licensing proposal at four of its meetings over the last three months: on Jan. 3Feb. 7March 7 and March 21. The council finally gave initial approval to the licensing proposal at its March 21 meeting. [.pdf of Michigan Medical Marijuana Act]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]