Jan. 18 2017 01:35 PM

Landlords can regulate use in their properties

It’s been a recurring problem. Over the last several months, Donald Cuthbert has awakened to the smell of marijuana permeating his home from his neighbor’s property.

“Every morning when I get up — I’m getting really tired of smelling it. It’s like a coalgenerating plant. There are ways to filter the air. These people don’t want to spend any money on it apparently,” said Cuthbert, a concerned Lansing citizen.

Cuthbert, who owns a few rental properties, might find solace in the fact that Gov. Rick Snyder signed Grand Ledge Sen. Rick Jones’ bill that allows landlords to ban the growing and smoking of marijuana in their properties.

“Two homes that were worth approximately $150,000 each were totally destroyed by marijuana growing operations,” said Jones. “These were rental units. The owners contacted me and told me they were very upset because their insurance might not cover it.”

According to Jones, the effect of the potentially offensive smell was one of the primary reasons the bill was set into action.

“Many people are very allergic to smoke,” Jones said. “They get a lease in a non-smoking apartment and they expect that to include marijuana.”

Jones’ bill does not ban the consumption of edible and topical marijuana products for those who are licensed as patients with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Program, or MMMP. Jones argues that patients who require the medical benefits of the drug can still receive it this way.

“It may be an inconvenience to them, but they’re sickening other renters by smoking. They can get their same THC with cookies and brownies,” Jones said.

A.J. O’Brien, a landlord from Grand Ledge and registered patient, is not opposed to his tenants smoking marijuana.

“If I thought it was going to negate the value of my property, I wouldn’t have rented it to them,” O’Brien said. “If somebody is bothered by it, I can understand that, and the landlord should be aware of what’s going on and make the judgment.”

The implications of the law also make it more difficult for individuals to gain access to their medicine. If they have fewer places to grow it, they may have to drive long distances if they are in a part of the state without access to dispensaries. O’Brien agrees that edible products can have beneficial effects but argues that there is a marked different between smoking and consuming the product.

“It’s a totally different experience from smoking. I have trouble with my throat so I do edibles. I can replace sleeping pills with lemon poppy muffins,” O’Brien said. “You don’t get the euphoria from edibles that you do from smoking.”

Mitch Earleywine, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany and author of “Understanding Marijuana,” said that the effects of the drug can be different, depending on how marijuana is consumed.

“Eaten cannabis gets metabolized by the liver, so delta-9 THC becomes 11-hydroxy- THC, which passes the blood-brain barrier more rapidly and has more of a psychedelic effect than standard THC. Smoked or vaporized cannabis bypasses the liver and doesn’t create the same 11-hydroxy-THC,” Earleywine was quoted as saying in The Daily Beast.

Still, even with the new law in place, people like Cuthbert may yet have an issue. After all, individuals who own their own homes and are registered to smoke and grow the plant for medicinal use might still be producing an odor that offends their neighbors. Just growing the plant requires ventilation.

“You really have to exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen,” said Sam Johnson, operator of Lansing’s Capitol City Seed Bank. “A plant sweats off a certain amount of moisture and in a confined environment you sometimes have to purge that moisture. With moisture sometimes it comes with an odor.”

Johnson said that there are ways to greatly diminish the smell from both grow operations and smoking such as purchasing a carbon filter or ozone generators. Robin Schneider, executive director of the Lansing-based National Patient’s Rights Association, said that though it is the legal right of patients and caregivers to cultivate and use their plants, they must be mindful of their effect on the community.

“Typically, my experience has been sometimes the homeowner doesn’t realize that the people next door can smell it. I think the first thing that needs to be done is a communication to the homeowner, and if somebody were to call the City Attorney’s Office, the office does a really great job of relaying that concern to the resident,” Schneider said.

According to Scott Sanford of the City Attorney’s Office, there haven’t been many of these complaints since he has worked there.

“In the last year I would say there have been 10 or 12 that have made their way to the City Attorney’s Office,” Sanford said.

A report to the city can result in an investigation of the site and in an extreme case could result in the shutdown of a grow operation. Joshua M. Covert, a Nichols Law Firm attorney in East Lansing who focuses on marijuana-related criminal law, said that sometimes reporting a neighbor for a marijuana smell might be too drastic and might not hold up in court.

“I think they would have a hard time proving that it in fact impacts their life in a negative way. I think it’s going to be somewhat of a subjective complaint, which may make it hard to quantify the harm,” Covert said. “We’re talking about someone saying they don’t like an odor.”

Johnson said for those individuals who dislike the smell, it all comes down to being neighborly.

“There is courtesy that I think should be extended on both sides,” Johnson said. “If it was me and I had the offending odor and someone dropped off the information in a nice way, I think that would go a long way for me realizing I had a problem. But if you send a police officer over, that would go another route.”