2017-03-23 / Front Page

Pot businesses look to Leelanau

Inquiries in four townships
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

Leelanau County, long recognized for its bountiful fruit harvests, could become home to another crop — commercial marijuana.

Township officials have verified that inquiries into establishing new marijuana businesses have been made in Solon, Suttons Bay, Leland and Bingham townships.

Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich is cool to the idea.

“I’m not against a licensed physician or pharmacist dispensing marijuana to a 75-year-old man with prostate cancer or an 82-year-old woman with breast cancer,” Borkovich said. “But from what I’ve seen, the bulk of the people getting their medical marijuana cards are between 18 and 30 years old.”

Late last year, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a trio of bills that addressed issues that hampered implementation of the voter approved medical marijuana law.

Public Acts 281, 282 and 283 legalize and regulate marijuana dispensaries and edible food products, as well as growing, processing, and transporting medical marijuana.

The new laws classify licenses into separate groups, based on the size of the operation:

 Class A, not more than 500 plants

 Class B, not more than 1,000 plants

 Class C, not more than 1,500 plants

Solon Township officials were approached earlier this month by a Traverse City man who would like to establish a Class A growing operation in the township.

“It appears that there are a number of vacant lots (and some homes) for sale in Solon Township that are zoned for agricultural purposes, thus presenting a potential opportunity for a grower to establish his/her business in the township,” Ryan Damerow wrote as part of a presentation made to the Township Board.

The new law dictates that growers may only operate in an area that is zoned for agricultural or industrial uses.

However, in order for growers to become certified they need the support of townships in which they intend to operate.

In other words, townships have to expressly allow commercial medical marijuana operations in their zoning ordinance for a such a business to locate there.

The new law has townships all over the state examining whether they want to allow the land use in their communities — and if so, how to proceed.

The Michigan Townships Association is offering a breakout session on the topic at its annual conference next month in Lansing. The Michigan State University (MSU) extension is offering educational program on the topic.

Kurt Schindler, land use educator with the MSU extension, is one of three staff members traveling throughout northern Michigan to offer sessions.

“There’s a lot that villages, cities and townships need to think about,” said Schindler, who was in Traverse City Tuesday for an educational event. “If a township wants to permit it, they have to address it in their zoning. If they don’t ... they don’t have to do anything.”

Steve Patmore, zoning administrator in Bingham and Suttons Bay townships, has received inquiries regarding growing and processing operations.

“They’re serious about it. But I don’t know how serious they’ll be after seeing all the hoops they’ll have to jump through,” he said.

The new laws direct the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to complete administrative guidelines to determine how licenses are issued.

“They have until Dec. 15, 201,7 before they start issuing licenses,” Patmore said. “For now, they’re directing people to talk to the local townships.”

Schindler, the MSU educator, recommended that if a township decides that all or some of these uses are appropriate, they should adopt a local police power ordinance and amend their zoning ordinance to indicate which districts the facilities should be located. Patmore has suggested his townships hold off on making any decisions until LARA’s rules are in place. He has also suggested his townships make contact with the sheriff’s office as they will also be involved in enforcement.

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