More than 120 attend workshop on regulating drug

 

Lapeer attorney and medical marijuana advocate Bernard Jocuns addressed the panel and Lapeer city officials Monday evening during a workshop session held at the Lapeer County EMS headquarters in Elba Township. Concerned the city may prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries in the city he asked, “Where do you expect them (patients) to get their medicine?” Photo by Jeff HoganELBA TWP. — Approximately 120 people from throughout Lapeer County and the region attended a special workshop meeting Monday evening hosted by the Lapeer City Commission at the Lapeer County EMS headquarters building in Elba Township.

Nearly 15 people in the generally polite audience asked questions or made statements toward a panel of expert speakers and Lapeer officials assembled to offer their perspective related to medical marijuana. The purpose of the meeting was to allow officials and the public to hear about new medical marijuana legislation that has been in effect since December 2016. Cities, villages and townships have until next December to decide whether and how they intend to regulate medical marijuana operations in their communities.

Monday’s presenters included: Justin Dunaskiss, a partner with a consulting and lobbying firm working with a medical marijuana trade association to advocate for the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act; Doug Piggott, a planner with Rowe Professional Services Company that has worked with other municipalities to amend their zoning to address the marijuana act; Lapeer Police Chief Todd Alexander who outlined his concerns from a law enforcement perspective; and Jim Smiertka, attorney for the City of Lansing that has drawn numerous draft ordinances of regulations as the city prepares for proposed medical marijuana operations that can begin to apply Dec. 10, 2017. The City of Lansing, estimated Smiertka, has spent about 40 hours each month in city staff time to keep up with and draft ordinances and city policy as it relates to regulation of medical marijuana in the state’s capital.

Lapeer County Commissioner Ian Kempf was in attendance as were Sheriff Scott McKenna, Undersheriff Jeremy Howe as well as several village and township officials from around the county.

One of Chief Alexander’s primary concerns related to medical marijuana was who will look out for patient safety, but also for the well-being of the public at large. “Will it lead to more crime, traffic accidents and medical incidents? Time will tell on that.”

Under new state law, there are five classes of licenses available for application that include grow centers, provisioning centers (dispensaries), secure transporters that move product and currency as well as safety compliance centers (independent testing laboratories).

Lapeer City Commissioner Joshua Atwood questioned why the medical marijuana industry remains a predominantly cash-oriented business that might present issues with such a high volume of money being moved about between marijuana-related businesses or even to lending institutions.

Dunaskiss replied that transportation of product and currency will be handled by two-man teams using unmarked vehicles. “Someone will always stay with the load and vehicle,” he said.

The new legislation, explained Smiertka, limits the location of grow operations to be located only in areas of a community zoned for industrial or agriculture purposes. Location of medical marijuana facilities, said several of the panelists, is the biggest concern expressed by residents and officials as it relates to proximity to homes, schools, parks, daycare facilities and other businesses. While local municipalities can limit where and the number of medical marijuana facilities that can operate in their community, it’s up to the Michigan Dept. of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to monitor what occurs inside the facilities as it relates to regulation of product and distribution practices.

Municipalities have until December to decide if they will “opt in” or “out” of the new legislation. In a citizen-led initiative in 2008 the majority of Lapeer County and Michigan voters favored medical marijuana, but ever since owing to lawsuits and confusion communities and citizens alike have been uncertain as to where they stand in the murky world of medical marijuana regulation.

In an effort to backfill and clarify the perimeters of the 2008 initiative the Republican-led legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder last fall passed a three-bill package to better define limitations of the budding medical marijuana industry that’s currently estimated to be worth $877 million.

According to LARA, in December 2016 there were 2,488 medical marijuana patients in Lapeer County with state-issued registry identification cards and 481 caregivers.

Local governments that “opt in” and allow one or any number of medical marijuana facilities to operate in their community will have the option to collect an annual licensing fee of up to $5,000 from each license holder, along with a sizeable share of a 3 percent excise tax on each dispensary’s total gross income.

Several patients or loved ones of family members who are benefiting from using medical marijuana were in attendance and wanted officials to remember aside of discussion about regulations and revenue potential there are real people with real conditions whose well-being must be considered.

At the same time, a woman who works for a local family services agency said she’s seen an uptick in cases related to the accessibility of medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana advocate and attorney Bernard Jocuns implored officials not to over-regulate or prohibit the drug. “Where do you expect them to get their medicine?” he asked.

Longtime marijuana advocate Jamie Fricke, who has had run-ins with the law related to medical marijuana, was pointed and direct with a question to Sheriff McKenna. She asked, “If we follow the law, if we do all these things and if everything is properly regulated, will it be respected by the sheriff’s department?”

McKenna said it wasn’t that simple. “There’s a lot of what ifs to that question,” he said. “That’s why I’m here tonight. To learn more about the law and all the regulations.”

Fricke continued, “I don’t see what’s so hard. It’s a yes or no answer.”

Walking around with a microphone and ensuring the meeting kept civil among the participants, Lapeer Mayor Bill Sprague interrupted Fricke’s follow up query and wrapped up the meeting that lasted nearly two hours.

“This is just the starting point for us tonight,” Sprague told The County Press. “We will take this information and the citizen’s comments to heart when we consider what we’re going to do going forward. I thought it went really well and I think we all learned a lot.”

BY JEFF HOGAN

810-452-2640 • jhogan@mihomepaper.com