March 18 2013 12:00 AM

An ordinance to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in Meridian Township surfaces; public hearing scheduled for Monday

Friday, Aug. 5 — Meridian Township could soon join the cities of East Lansing and Lansing in regulating medical marijuana businesses.

The Township’s Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Monday night on a zoning code amendment to allow dispensaries in certain zones of the township.

Up until now, the township has had no regulations as is pertains to medical marijuana distribution. At least one dispensary, the Herbal Center at 3340 Lake Lansing Road, has been operating in the township since last fall.

The township Board of Trustees has not supported a moratorium or regulations on such activity, Township Supervisor Susan McGillicuddy said.

Under the proposed rules, a “marihuana dispensary” is defined as “a structure or building where marihuana is transferred, delivered, acquired, or sold to Qualifying Patients” under the state Medical Marihuana Act.

Such operations would be allowed in commercial, retail and business districts but must be at least 500 feet from each other, churches, schools, residentially zoned properties, community centers, libraries and parks. In Lansing, similar buffering requirements are 1,000 feet.

As “operational standards,” dispensaries “shall have a secure public entrance and implement security measures to deter and prevent theft of marihuana, diversion of marihuana to illicit markets and to prevent unintended or uninvited access;” operate between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m.; and not allow on-site consumption. “Cultivation, manufacture, or growing” on-site, as well as drive-throughs would be prohibited. As for signage: dispensaries “shall not have exterior signage using the word ‘marihuana,’ ‘marijuana,’ or any other word, phrase, graphic, or picture commonly understood to refer to marihuana,” the amendment says.

For residential properties, the proposed amendment does not allow for more than 72 plants in one home — which is the maximum someone could grow under state law — and allows for “transfer or delivery” in homes only between a qualified patient and his or her caregiver. While someone couldn’t operate a dispensary out of a residence, the amendment “does not prohibit a Marihuana Dispensary from delivering marihuana to a Qualifying Patient at the Qualifying Patient’s home.”

The amendment allows for cultivation facilities in industrial zones and instead of the 500-foot buffering requirements for dispensaries, it is 1,000 feet. “Dispensing or selling” is not allowed at cultivation sites.

McGillicuddy said the Herbal Center’s presence, which opened last year, has not had a negative impact in the community.

“We haven’t had any problems, and the Police Department hasn’t had problems at all,” she said. “I know Lansing has had problems.”

However, an Okemos-based attorney is against the amendment because it will “encourage further marijuana growth and sales in our Township.”

William Fahey, who was the Meridian Township attorney for 15 years and is now with the private firm Fahey, Schultz, Burzych and Rhodes in Okemos, said in an e-mail that the proposal “goes well beyond what is required to comply” with the state law and “appears calculated to effectively legalize marijuana in Meridian Township.”

“Some people might be under the mistaken impression that marijuana growing and selling is legal in Michigan. Actually, though, it is still a crime to grow and sell marijuana under both state and federal law. The MMMA provides a limited exemption from criminal prosecution for very sick patients, who can use marijuana to ease the pain caused by their diseases, such as cancer. The MMMA is being abused by drug dealers to cover their criminal drug operations. The Planning Commission’s current proposal will aid the abuse of the MMMA by enabling permissive new practices in Meridian Township,” Fahey wrote.

Last spring, Fahey helped launch a successful petition drive for a referendum to be placed on the August 2012 presidential primary election ballot that could overturn the township Board of Trustees’ decision to rezone a residentially zoned property on Okemos Road. Lansing physician Shannon Wiggins asked the board to rezone 4133 Okemos Road so she could open a clinic that would combine urgent care treatment and medical marijuana certification exams.

Wiggins is also facing eight counts by the state of allegedly overprescribing pharmaceuticals. In one case, the state says a patient died.

Fahey also cited a June 29 memo from Deputy U.S. Attorney General James M. Cole about increased commercial activity like dispensaries raising “serious federal concerns.” The memorandum says those who help facilitate such activity violate the federal Controlled Substances Act, according to Fahey.

“The memorandum’s reference to ‘troubling local laws’ sets a tone that any township or township official could be considered facilitators of these illegal marijuana schemes, even if they involve medical marijuana,” Fahey wrote.

He proposed his own regulations that attempt to “accommodate the limited activities of caregivers for truly sick patients that the MMMA contemplates.”

The public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 8 during the Planning Commission’s meeting at the Meridian Municipal Building, 5151 Marsh Road in Okemos.