By David Fleet
Atlas Twp.-On Feb.18 the township board of trustees voted 4-1 during a special virtual meeting to amend ordinance language in the Atlas Township Medical Marijuana caregivers zoning amendment. The purpose is to define and regulate Medical Marijuana primary caregiver operations. The planning commission voted to approve the amendment.
Township Clerk Katie Vick voted no.
Beginning March 7, new primary caregiver operations of medical marijuana will be required to operate in M-1 and M-2 zoning districts only along with other restrictions. M1 districts typically include light industrial uses, such as woodworking shops, repair shops, and wholesale service and storage facilities. Earlier this year the township also established a permit for Medical Marijuana primary caregivers to operate and to provide penalties for a violation. An application fee of $250 was also approved.
At issue is determination of where in the township will medical marijuana be grown. Township officials say they started to receive complaints, such as odors from flowering growing plants with caregiver operations in some neighborhoods.
David Lattie, township attorney said moving growing operations to areas zoned for industrial use will ease the concerns of residential neighborhoods on several levels. According to state law, caregivers are allowed 12 marijuana plants for each patient in their care. As a result up to 84 plants could be thriving in the yards of township residents which include 60 plants for patients, 12 plants for recreational marijuana use and 12 plants if the caregiver who holds a medical card.
“If the growing is inside or outside it makes a big difference in a neighborhood,” he said. “The impact on the surrounding property is at issue.”
The township is now one of hundreds of communities statewide that will regulate where medical marijuana can be grown.
“Medical marijuana has a significant observable impact on surrounding property,” said Lattie, who also worked on similar rules in Davison Township. “At full capacity, growing marijuana can require a lot of space, also the methods to screen the marijuana (plants) from view can also create unwanted structures.”
In addition, when blooming, marijuana creates a bad odor, and especially if the lot is small and neighbors are close, he added.
Medical marijuana facilities are popping up all over the state, said Lattie.
“The zoning change in the township is to ensure harmonious land use,” he said. “The grow sites need to be in the right part of the township and stay in compliance.”
Following the vote, Vick responded to her no vote.
“The planning commission, planner and township attorney did an exceptional job,” said Vick. “It’s not that I don’t support it, but the vote should reflect some opposition to the ordinance. I feel it’s a little too restrictive in the actual zoning we are using. I feel we should consider conditional use permit language in the future. I have concerns over those existing caregivers that we don’t have on our radar yet and what their process is (regarding) their timeline for registration.. We should also look into the home occupation aspect of the ordinance too.”
Such zoning ordinance changes began after several court decisions.
Last year, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld a local zoning ordinance that regulated caregiver growing operations. Now, Atlas along with other townships are using the April 2020 high court ruling in DeRuiter vs.Township of Byron that municipalities can now regulate zoning for medical marijuana grow facilities.
In a unanimous decision, the high court voted to allow for “reasonable zoning” for caregiver growing. Caregivers will now also need permission and require a permit from municipalities prior to starting an operation.
However, the permit requirement does not effectively prohibit the medical marijuana use, said the court. Michigan is just one of 12 states that have legalized marijuana.
Prior to a recent Michigan Supreme Court ruling, lower courts ruled its hands off for municipalities, it’s voter approved, there’s nothing you can do about it regarding the growing of medical marijuana.