Sylvan Township Board Begins Medical Marijuana Facilities Discussion

By Melinda Baird, melindathesuntimesnews@gmail.com

Having held off from initiating public discussion regarding whether to authorize medical marijuana facilities within its boundaries, Sylvan Township recently joined the fray by hosting its first public hearing on the topic.

Attorney Robert Hendricks of Grand Rapids-based cannabis law group Cannalex, Lt. Detective Dale Smith of Michigan State Police, and representatives of SRSLY youth substance abuse prevention coalition presented during the hour prior to the township’s September 5 board meeting.  With little time left for public comment, Supervisor Tom McKernan said the township’s next step will be to schedule a second public hearing to hear what residents think.

Since the Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act was signed into law last September, Michigan cities, villages and townships have been grappling with whether to opt in or do nothing.  Opting in consists of adopting an ordinance explicitly authorizing medical marijuana facilities within a jurisdiction; doing nothing will prohibit any and all facilities within a jurisdiction beginning December 15. Primary caregivers already operating under the 2008 Medical Marijuana Act are not required to obtain a state license and shall not be prohibited from operating by local government.  In other words, the 2016 MMFLA in no way alters the 2008 MMA.

For a hopeful entrepreneur seeking to obtain a medical marijuana facility license (for which one can apply beginning December 15), the municipality in which it will reside must have passed an ordinance.  Facilities requiring that license run the gamut of production, including growing, processing, provisioning (selling), transporting and testing.    Two more aspects of the new set of laws include legalization of medical marijuana-infused products (“edibles”) and the establishment of a state “seed to sale” tracking software system.

So why was new legislation necessary, and what should municipalities do with it?  Hendricks said the 2008 law, in its effort to restrict marijuana use to legitimate medical needs, invited abundant cultivation and consumption of marijuana beyond those needs.

“The legislature looked at this phenomenon and said, ‘We need to build a better mousetrap for this medical marijuana process,’” Hendricks said.  “The MMFLA, in my mind, once it’s up and running will actually act as a mechanism to drive unlawful and black market and gray market activity out of the marketplace.”

It’s worth noting the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) is poised to accept license applications in mid-December, but a regulatory licensing board was only recently formed and rules, regulations, and protocol have not yet been devised.  To fill the gap, LARA will be “up and running” under a six-month emergency set of guidelines, subject to an additional six-month extension.

Hendricks pointed out that opting-in municipalities can benefit financially by charging facilities an annual administrative fee up to $5,000.  These municipalities will also share, in proportion to the number of facilities they house, a pool of money generated by a 3% excise tax on gross retail receipts of all provisioning centers.  Hendricks calculated the average participating township will receive roughly $10,000 annually per licensee.

But the strings attached to those dollars deserve serious consideration, local grass-roots coalition SRSLY believes.  SRSLY team members continued to forge its message by challenging those present to consider the long-term social, health, legal and regulatory costs associated with allowing marijuana businesses within a jurisdiction.   In fact, SRSLY Regional Coalition Manager Reiley Curran urged the board, as she and others have nearly all elected officials west of Ann Arbor throughout the past months, to sign a resolution “protecting our communities’ youth from the marijuana industry.”

SRSLY went on to present University of Michigan Institute for Social Research findings indicating youth marijuana use increases where medical and recreational marijuana businesses exist, as well National Institute on Drug Abuse findings indicating marijuana’s, possibly permanent, effects on youth include reduced thinking, memory, and learning functions.  Youth marijuana use is linked to lower grades, higher chance of school dropout and lower chance of college enrollment, increased risk of developing mental illness and thoughts of suicide.  Further, the Center for Disease Control found that one in six individuals who use marijuana before age 18 will become addicted, and those with marijuana addictions are three times more likely to become addicted to heroin.

SRSLY reiterated marijuana is federally illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning local governments that accept tax revenue from marijuana facilities are subject to federal law and banks are open to government seizure if they accept money from a federally illegal act.

Lt. Detective Smith shared a shortened version of the Michigan State Police presentation of “Lessons Learned from Colorado,” reminding those present of the financial might behind the marijuana lobby, the skyrocketing THC content in today’s marijuana, and the increasing targeting of children by marijuana advertisers.

Although municipalities are not mandated to take any action, Hendricks warned the township of the risk, as he sees it, it’ll take by waiting.  “This is a market, and at some point this market will be saturated,” he said.  Which direction Sylvan Township residents wish to take and how the board chooses to respond remains to be seen.


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