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.”