MARQUETTE - The Marquette City Commission dissected the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act on Monday as commissioners sought to understand how the law will affect the community and what the city can do to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries.
Commissioners said they have no intention of circumventing the law but they want to make sure any marijuana dispensing in the city is done in a safe way that won't harm residents.
"We're not here looking at ways to stand in the way of this law ... we're here looking at ways Marquette can do it right so that it's safe for everyone including those who will use this," said Commissioner Don Ryan.
According to Matt Wiese, chief assistant prosecuting attorney for the county, the law does not address medical marijuana cooperatives or dispensaries. He said the law allows a medical marijuana card holder to either grow up to 12 plants for their own use or enlist the aid of a caregiver to grow it for them. Wiese said anybody who is 21 years or older and has no felony level drug conviction can be a caregiver. A caregiver can grow marijuana for up to five people. Caregivers and users are required to file paperwork with the state before the arrangement is legal for the caregiver.
Wiese said the commission has the right to regulate the hours and days of operation, location and other conditions for dispensaries as long as the regulations are tied to a legitimate public safety interest.
Since the act does not mention dispensaries, commissioners were left to ponder the definition of the term.
Police Chief Mike Angeli said his definition is a group of people together in one location growing, harvesting and providing marijuana to a set group of people.
"That in itself is not a bad thing necessarily ... but I am concerned about what comes along with it. I have a responsibility in this community to provide a certain level of safety which I need to take seriously and often with a large number of marijuana providers - because this law is directed toward a less regulated form of enterprise - tends to bring people into the business that are not always just doing what they say they're doing," he said.
He said in California crimes have increased near dispensaries - crimes in the form of people being robbed going there, dispensaries being robbed and people being robbed leaving dispensaries.
Monday's meeting was well attended with more than 40 people in the audience. Dave Guizzetti, who works at the Marquette Medical Marihuana Registration Center, said he has been to cooperatives and dispensaries at various locations around the state.
"Some of them I visited were not pleasant. Others were run in a very professional manner. And they're not drug dealers with a sign out front. They're main concern and issue is how are we going to help these people," Guizzetti said, saying some regulations would help such operations.
Donald Slayton of Calumet said the law should be interpreted as is and the city should not ban dispensaries.
"You have a lot of gray areas and you have a lot of people trying to interpret it. The words that are wrote are the words that are wrote and you can only construe them a certain way," he said. "To deny a capitalist application to an industry that's been born goes against our system."
Steven Rabish, a Northern Michigan University student from Traverse City, said dispensaries do not have to be 24/7 operations. He said a dispensary might only need to be open for four hours one day a week.
Sue Smart, of Ishpeming, said there is currently a backlog within the state for medical marijuana cards because so many people have applied. She said a common problem is there are not enough caregivers for all the card-holders.
"One thing that would help the situation is if the city of Marquette and perhaps even outlying areas could see their way to provide a safe place where people have access to their medicine," she said.
Mayor John Kivela said city staff, will work on either an ordinance or an addition to the zoning ordinance which will deal with medical marijuana dispensaries.
The commission also held a discussion about the decriminalization of marijuana in Marquette, but a majority of commissioners did not seem in favor of the idea.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His e-mail address is email@example.com.