2017-09-14 / Front Page

Opinions vary widely on cannabis; some say legalize it

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

Rules for the production and use of marijuana in Leelanau County and throughout Michigan remained a moving target this week – as does any sense of how most people really feel about pot, either for medical or recreational use.

“I know quite a few people our age (in their early 60’s) who regularly use marijuana for pain relief,” said Leland Township supervisor Susan Och.

“But most them do not have a medical marijuana card because they don’t want their names appearing in any kind of medical marijuana data base – so don’t expect any of them want their names appearing in a newspaper article about marijuana either,” she added.

As the top elected official of her township, however, Och has been facing the same set of questions lately that many local and state officials have been facing: should large-scale medical marijuana production facilities even be allowed, and what rules should apply?

“The answer is already clear here in Solon Township,” said Solon Township Supervisor Jim Lautner. “Our residents don’t want to have anything to do with marijuana.”

Indeed, a public hearing was held just weeks ago in Solon Township on a zoning ordinance provision that might have allowed construction of a sizable medical marijuana “grow” facility. Public outcry against the measure was so loud and clear that the Township Board shelved the entire concept.

The question of whether medical marijuana should be allowed at all in Michigan has already been settled, however. A solid majority of Michigan voters approved the production and use of medical marijuana in 2008. Rules currently in place allow small- scale production by “caregivers” for a limited number of patients who obtain prescriptions from a physician and a medical marijuana card from the state.

Medical marijuana “caregiving” operations are taking place throughout Leelanau County and the state, but are not subject to county, township or village-government regulation. Hence, local officials don’t even know how many medical marijuana “caregivers” already are in business in their jurisdictions.

Larger medical marijuana “grow” facilities are an entirely different matter, however. The state Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Agency announced this week that it is cracking down on existing operations. No such operations are known to exist in Leelanau County.

State officials are giving the operators of large-scale medical marijuana facilities until Dec. 15 to close or potentially risk not obtaining a license under a new regulatory system. The new system will impose new taxes and increase government oversight, although details have not yet been released.

Local officials who were asked by an Enterprise reporter to hold forth on the topic all stressed that they were expressing only their own, personal opinions. Indeed, if local units of government are asked to authorize medical marijuana facilities in their jurisdiction, the decisions will be made by a vote of the entire elected board, not by any individual official.

It so happens that Elmwood Township Supervisor Jeff Shaw is a chiropractor who often sees patients complaining of pain.

“Those that know me know I have never chosen to try marijuana or any other ‘recreational’ drugs,” Shaw said. “I have also never used any prescription or over the counter drugs. I was totally opposed to ‘medical marijuana.’”

As a chiropractor, however, Shaw said, “I have seen first- hand, multiple patients who have serious, life threatening diseases. Many of them benefited from medical marijuana. … I have completely changed my opinion on the use of medical marijuana.”

Speaking as a private citizen, Peter Van Nort of Glen Arbor Township said he has no objection to the production and use of medical marijuana and is not opposed to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use either.

As a township supervisor, however, Van Nort’s only observation on the issue is that nearly 80 percent of Glen Arbor Township is located within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. As such, it is under the jurisdiction of the federal government – which does not allow the production and use of marijuana for any reason.

As for recreational use, “I personally believe that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and cigarettes, and marijuana should be treated the same,” Van Nort said.

Township governments throughout Leelanau County have more recently been confronting the issue of whether to allow medical marijuana “grow” facilities, however. In most cases, such facilities require buildings of considerable size, often 10,000 square-feet or more.

As recently as Tuesday night this week, the Cleveland Township Board decided to seek an opinion from a township attorney about what action it should take on the medical marijuana “grow” facilities question.

“I don’t think the makeup of Cleveland Township lends itself to any licensing of medical marijuana facilities,” said Cleveland Township supervisor Tim Stein.

On the other hand, Stein said, he is not opposed to legalizing the recreational use of marijuana “if it can be controlled, taxed and have proper enforcement standards and regulations like alcohol.”

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