With Mason having undergone many changes over the years, Chairman of the Mason 150 Coordinating Committee and Mayor Pro Tem Marlon Brown finds it hard to speculate on the future – especially when it comes to the topic of marijuana.
“I honestly do not know whether or not marijuana use will be completely legalized in the foreseeable future,” Brown said. “So much is still unknown at this point.”
When Michigan lawmakers passed the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act in 2008, making marijuana use legal for patients who had a prescription from a qualified doctor, it posed a conundrum to city governments around the state. With any use of marijuana still illegal at the federal level, cities had to tread carefully.
“Even though the state was allowing it we did not want to violate federal law because the federal government could have come and fought the city,” Brown said. “Federal laws, state laws and local laws were all at different levels of conflict.”
According to a report presented at the Dec. 7 Mason City Council meeting, the issue of regulating medical marijuana was first introduced to the council on Oct. 4, 2010. Since that introduction, council members have passed three ordinances defining regulations on medical marijuana use within city limits and have enacted a number of 180-day moratoriums on the issuance of licenses to medical marijuana caregivers, with the most recent set to expire on Jan. 31, 2016, to allow the council more time in determining a policy.
Because state law protects the rights of medical marijuana patients and caregivers, Mason cannot prevent the growing or use of the plant as long as it is in accordance with state law, said Zoning and Planning Director David Haywood.
“The law is very simply written and very short, which when you include the [court interpretations] and recent law changes it really makes it clear that you have to allow this thing,” Haywood said. “You can require registrations and inspections all day long, but there are few regulations you can impose on it at the end of the day that can stop a caregiver from what they do and where they do it.”
A similar issue is present in nearby Lansing, where city council member Carol Wood said the lack of city control over how medical marijuana is regulated makes it hard to enforce ordinances especially when it comes to the many medical marijuana dispensaries located throughout the city.
“Since 2011 there has been no licenses issued to medical marijuana dispensaries, but if you travel through Lansing you know there are a number of them open and functioning,” said Wood. “So I would say that we have passed an ordinance that has been a dismal failure. It is not been successful because we have not been able to enact the ordinance.”
Wood said, “I believe in home rule which means that local municipalities have the right to determine their own destiny and I would like to see us start enforcing and issuing licenses for medical marijuana establishments. This would help not only the medical marijuana patients who need a place to obtain their medical marijuana, but it would also help neighborhood and corridors that have a large number of these stores opening on their major corridors which are going unregulated.”
While Mason does not have any dispensaries, the confusion of just what can be regulated has made it difficult to create ordinances. Brown said that because medical marijuana is so new that potential rules or protocols for everything from whether grow operations are a fire hazard to how they could affect property prices on a street need to be thoroughly examined and.
“The law, particularly, is shifting and changing and we have to look at what is and what isn’t allowed,” Brown said. “There are certain things we want to be cognizant on so as a community we are protecting those who would be patients and caregivers but also the rest of the community as well.”
In order to get a better sense of what issues might need to be addressed, a public meeting was held Sep. 23 at Bestsellers Book & Coffee Co. in downtown Mason. Although only 12 residents were in attendance, Haywood says that there was good feedback in terms of what types of regulations residents would like to see in the future.
“It was kind of split between people who would like it more regulated and those who don’t,” said Brown. “Those folks that said they don’t want it here recognize the fact that it’s legal so if it’s legal please regulate to the point where it has the least amount of impact, and those that were proponents said that they understand they don’t want to be perceived as a negative impact to the community so they’re willing to go along with some regulations.
“It was a truly good dialogue, but [both sides] are still far apart. There is a lot of open space in that conversation.”
Haywood said, “The biggest concern is that people are generally against permitting dispensaries,” Haywood said. “They are concerned what a dispensary will do to the attitudes of the people visiting the community and in providing that access and that imagery to their youth.”
Roger Maufort, a member of the Jackson Area Compassion Club, believes marijuana should be legal for both medical and recreational uses, and that dispensaries offer a variety of ingestion methods that an individual caregiver might not be able to. When it comes to the visibility of dispensaries in a community, however, he said he has no problems with there being regulations on how dispensaries can be run as long as it is consistent with similar business regulations.
“I think signage should follow with what other businesses are like, and if they don’t want bold displays with pot leaves all over that create an atmosphere of recreation and or abuse I guess I don’t have a problem with that,” Maufort said. “As long as places are clean and professional like other business establishments would be they should be allowed.”
The planning commission is working on a new draft ordinance that it hopes to propose by the time the current moratorium expires. The new ordinance is expected to focus on requiring caregivers to meet patients off-site from their homes to deter transactions of an illegal amount and to create an organized system of registration for caregivers.
Based on extrapolation of county numbers from 2014, Haywood estimates that there are roughly 30 caregivers and 100 patients currently in Mason, but he expects that there will be an increase. As more residents become caregivers and patients, it will be even more crucial to find ordinances that best suit the community’s needs.
“The solution will never be perfect, but we have to try to find the one that will fit the most appropriate need,” Brown said.
No matter how it plays out, Brown knows that all he can do is work to find the best possible solution.
“There’s still a lot of questions to be answered, and of course for a community like Mason I think there would be a hesitancy to fully embrace it,” Brown said about the potential for marijuana to be completely legalized in the future, “but our goal as public officials is to uphold the Constitution and the law, and at some point if Michigan decides that it is the law that recreational and medical are permitted, then as a city we will just have to regulate and monitor and administer the law in a fair way that protects the rights of all its citizens.”