MUSKEGON, MI — Despite objections from medical marijuana caregivers, Muskegon’s proposed medical marijuana ordinance has the support of commissioners who put off a formal vote on it until next month.
Most of about a dozen medical marijuana caregivers and patients who attended the Muskegon City Commission work session earlier this week objected to the proposed amendment to the ordinance. They protested the fees that dispensaries and growers must pay to the city, they didn’t like the idea of having to register with the city and they didn’t want city officials inspecting their grow operations.
City officials pointed out that the proposed changes to the “marihuana” ordinance include an expansion of areas where caregivers and dispensaries can operate. As currently written, the ordinance restricts such “facilities” to heavy industrial zones in the city. The proposed amendment would allow for them to locate in most business, governmental and industrial zones.
Muskegon City Clerk Ann Cummings said the largest number of calls her office receives about the current ordinance are from people concerned by the restriction to the heavy industrial areas.
“This (amendment) certainly will help caretakers who want a license for growing and distributing marijuana,” she said. “They’ll definitely have a whole lot more options out there.”
She said there are people waiting for the new rules so they can get licensed and begin their grow operations.
Currently, there is a moratorium on new caregiver and dispensary operations in the city. Court challenges to the law legalizing medical marijuana prompted city officials to pull back and revise language in the ordinance. Once the ordinance changes are approved by the commission and the zoning changes approved by the planning commission, the moratorium will be lifted. City Manager Frank Peterson said that could take about 60 days.
Patients can grow up to 12 plants for their personal use. Caregivers can grow up to 72 plants, but they cannot do so in a residence, under the proposed ordinance.
Peterson said it’s “not appropriate” for 72 marijuana plants to be growing inside homes in residential areas. He said the presence of that much of the drug inside a house can attract criminals and that growing lights and other equipment could put dangerous strains on electric systems of the city’s older housing stock.
“We want it to be a business — we want to move it to a business appropriate area,” Peterson said.
But one medical marijuana caregiver objected to the idea that what he does is a business.
“I’m supplying patients with medicine — I’m not making a profit at this,” he said. “I’m not here to make money. I’m here to help people.”
Attorney Kevin Wistrom argued that the caregivers are not typical business people because they are restricted to up to five caregivers.
The amended ordinance expands allowable medical marijuana operations to areas zoned B-2, -3 and -4 business districts; B-5 governmental services; I-1 and -2 industrial; and medical care.
Plants must be grown indoors in a locked area.
“We just want it in more of a secure environment,” Peterson said.
Medical marijuana activist Derek Antol told the commission it was illegal to require inspections of medical marijuana growing operations. But city officials said they are within their rights to require fire and building inspections, again saying they were treating grow and dispensary facilities as businesses.
The ordinance requires that grow operations and dispensaries obtain a license from the city that carries a $1,500 application fee and a $1,100 renewal fee. Patients who grow medical marijuana in their residence would be subject to a $100 application fee and annual renewal fee, under the proposed ordinance.
While caregivers and patients objected to the fees, calling them a money grab by the city, officials said they are needed to pay the costs of the inspections.
“We want to make sure the rest of the community doesn’t have to bear the costs of this,” Peterson said.
City officials wanted the commission to vote on the amended ordinance at its Monday work session and Tuesday board meeting, but votes were put off so staff could make some minor wording changes. The commission is expected to vote when it meets the week of Aug. 25.
Wording changes include removing a requirement that existing caregivers seek a license within 15 days of the ordinance’s effective date.
“Probably nothing we come up with would make everybody happy,” Peterson said. “We’re trying to do the best we can.”
Medical-marijuana patient fees will be dramatically lowered to $15 annually beginning early next year, the state board of health decided Wednesday.
In a 7-1 vote, the board lowered the $35 fee patients pay by 57 percent to $15.
The change is mainly due to the fact the registry’s state fund has made more than enough money to cover administrative costs, said Mark Salley, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
In fact, there is an excess of $13 million.
“The board felt it was appropriate to make this change,” Salley said.
The $35 fee was slashed down from $90 in 2011. When the program started, after voter approval in 2000, the annual fee was $140.
Patients need a doctor’s recommendation to be legal medical-marijuana users in Colorado and do not need to apply to the registry.
However, the registry gives patients extra protection against prosecution, and a registry card is required to shop at a dispensary.
The registry is not supposed to make money, just cover administrative costs.
Numerous speakers during the public comment section of the meeting suggested the fee should be waved, but the $15 amount was deemed fair, Salley said.
The change will take effect in February.
There are nearly 113,000 valid medical-marijuana card holders in Colorado.
Medical marijuana businesses, the shops and the grow houses, also pay significant fees for permits.
During the meeting, there was some discussion what do with a portion of the $13 million extra, said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group.
One suggestion, supported by Medical Marijuana Industry Group, is to use $7 million of the estimated $13 million to research whether other conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and epilepsy should qualify, Elliott said.
Hard data could be used to show medical marijuana helps those afflictions, leading to new qualifying conditions for patient use, Elliott said.
“There is no good reason not to do this,” he said.
While there was some discussion, the topic was not an agenda item and no official action was taken, Salley said.
Live Oak, California has banned the cultivation and dispersion of medical marijuana via the Court system, for now. With the nearest functioning dispensary two hours away, patients like plaintiff James Maral are now waiting for redemption in the dry dust of lingering prohibition.
Maral is living with compartment syndrome, which is life threatening, as well as six damaged discs in his back. His mother Donneda Maral, for whom he is caretaker, has severe diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, and requires frequent trips to the hospital. Not being able to grow their own medicine leaves them with few legal options to obtain and use medicinal marijuana.
In the Discussion section of James Maral et al. v. City of Live Oak, Judge Hoch found that the plaintiffs (Maral et al.) “have failed to make proper arguments,” and thus declined to address the matter, leaving the judgment affirmed and the City to recover costs on appeal. The City cited Inland Empire in their defence, stating, “there is no right — and certainly no constitutional right — to cultivate medical marijuana.” Attorney Joe Elford of San Francisco is drafting the petition to challenge. “This decision conflicts with the intent of the electorate and Legislature and should not be allowed to stand,” said Elford.
In a press release issued by CalNORML director Dale Gieringer, Gieringer stated that, “The right of patients to grow their own medicine is fundamental to Prop. 215’s stated purpose of ensuring that ‘seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes.’ The city of Live Oak has no legitimate business prohibiting Mr. Maral from growing the medicine he needs at his own private residence.”
The current (non)judgment sets a dangerous precedent, but Elford is on the case, and a solid case it is. The People have already spoken through Prop. 215 and SB420. Though California’s medical marijuana market still has the flavor of the wild west, the white hats have proven time and again to be on the green side of the corral, and our rights slinging attorneys continue to fight the good fight to their victorious ends.