Cannabis dispensary plan stirs debate

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By Harrison Thrasher and Jasmine Watts
The Mason Times

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 1.51.44 AMThe City of Mason planning commission has proposed a medical cannabis ordinance that would allow for a dispensary within the town.

Citizens and officials have been debating the idea, mostly whether a dispensary would be morally and economically efficient in Mason.

A medical cannabis dispensary could have economic benefits, such as creating jobs and supplying income that could benefit the city. A popular example is Colorado, one of the first states to completely legalize cannabis.

The Colorado Department of Revenue reported billions in tax revenue since legalization of dispensaries, including a large increase every year.

One dispensary will not generate billions for Mason, but Colorado’s experience could be a positive indicator and could be encouraging to those who want to give an economic boost to the city.

One issue that sticks out is the legality of having a dispensary. Although Michigan passed a law legalizing the use of medical cannabis, the act still remains illegal under federal law. City Attorney Thomas Hitch cited a Michigan Supreme Court ruling that called for full regulation of dispensaries, meaning they merely cannot be operated independently.

“There was an opening for locals to make regulations,” said Hitch. “The question is to what extent local regulation would be deemed lawful before residents or patients could bring it before the court.”

If the ordinance is approved, the city would have to regulate the dispensary under Michigan law. The city would have to regulate at a level large enough to meet state requirements, but also at a level low enough to not interfere with the practices of the dispensary.

Many people suffer from diseases that require medical marijuana for their health.

“Since medical marijuana is available in nearby towns, I don’t believe we need dispensaries here. As long as the patients who need medical marijuana can still use it here, there shouldn’t be any problems” said Marsha Taylor, 34, Mason resident.

Although 59% of Mason voters agree with Taylor, based on a 2012 vote, other Mason residents disagree and would like dispensaries in the city.

“I have glaucoma. It that affects my vision and I am not able to drive any more,” said Kenneth  Nelson, 62, Mason resident. “Traveling further to get medical marijuana is an inconvenience. I should be able to get my prescription in Mason since the measure passed.”

Another issue with the ordinance is the concern over safety. There are certain risks involved with a business such as this in a town like Mason, according to city officials.

“Something that’s going on in Colorado is that the whole business is run on cash, because the sales are not federally approved,” said Planning Board Chairman Ed Reeser. “Many dispensary robberies result in the theft of all the cash.”

This means that the dispensary would have to be in a secure location, while also abiding with regulations that it not be on a main street or near locations such as a school or church.

“From a city standpoint, there are a lot of concerns about dispensaries; how close to schools would this be allowed, where in terms of zoning can you permit this, how it then impacts surrounding businesses, homes, property values and criminal activity,” said Marlon Brown, mayor pro tem.

Police Chief John Stressman said, “It will be difficult on police to identify illegal activity with a dispensary in the town. We worry about these substances attracting more illegal activity from third parties, both in sales and theft.”

Stressman expressed concern over the potential of more illegal sales within the community. However, a study by the Drug Policy Alliance has found that the number of arrests for illegal distribution decreased drastically in Colorado once dispensaries were legalized.

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Mason’s proposal had been tabled for several years to process all information before making a decision. Mayor Michael Waltz says that the proposal needs to start moving.

“When we embarked on this a few years ago, we chose to go the path of a moratorium,” said Waltz. “We may repeal what we have, and enact another moratorium and wait to see what Michigan Legislature does.”

What this would mean for Mason is a possible re-tabling of the ordinance that could actually make passing it easier in the future should the state laws become more definite. However, without a guarantee.

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