Farmington Hills officials want review of medical marijuana rules

Farmington Hills officials on Monday said they want to see a Planning Commission review of the city’s medical marijuana rules.

During a study session, City Attorney Steve Joppich reviewed the complicated history of Michigan marijuana laws, which he said have been refined by court cases since the state legalized medical uses of marijuana in 2008.

“In over 12 years, there are two things I can tell you for sure,” he said. “I don’t know everything about the subject and neither does anyone else… There are a tremendous amount of unanswered questions about these laws.”

Joppich reviewed the 2008 law, which allows qualifying patients with an ID card to carry up to 2.5 ounces at any time. He said that if the average marijuana cigarette weighs around .32 grams, patients could carry as many as 220 “joints” at a time.

In addition, the law allows caregivers to grow 12 marijuana plants for a maximum of five patients, and for themselves if they qualify as a patient. For an average grower, he said, 12 plants would yield 90.24 ounces of marijuana or 7,920 joints for each harvest, according to information published in Michigan Planning and Zoning News.

2010 moratorium, 2014 ordinance

The law was “in flux” between 2008 and 2014, Joppich said, because cities didn’t know whether it pre-empted local zoning ordinances. Because of that, Farmington Hills officials took a “wait and see” approach, approving a moratorium on land uses related to medical marijuana that remained in place for about four years.

In light of a 2014 court ruling that the state law did pre-empt local zoning rules, the city approved a zoning ordinance amendment that allowed growing as a home business, subject to a number of restrictions that include:

  • Compliance with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act
  • Location outside a 1,000-foot radius from a school, nursery school, or day care
  • No more than one primary caregiver growing per lot or parcel
  • No more than 5 qualifying patients visiting the home within any calendar week
  • All marijuana contained within the main building in an enclosed, locked facility
  • All operations not noticeable from the exterior
  • Caregiver must personally occupy the home and use it for residential purposes

In 2018-19, Joppich said, the city started to receive complaints and have issues with caregiver growing operations in some neighborhoods. The most significant legal movement, he said, happened this year, when the Michigan Supreme Court upheld a local zoning ordinance that regulated caregiver growing operations in the same way Farmington Hills does.

“The court re-iterated you can’t preclude operations, but you can regulate similar to other uses,” he said. 

Reasons to amend the city’s ordinance, Joppich said, stem from increased neighborhood complaints about odors and noise, increased enforcement demands with multiple city departments involved  and increased costs, safety concerns that include a recent fire at a medical marijuana grow house, and the difficulty of enforcing the rules with private homes.

“How do you know there is an illegal grow operation there, or an operation at all, and how do you gain access?” he said. “There are a lot of legal issues involved.”

Officials comment

Council member Samantha Steckloff expressed shock at the amount of marijuana caregivers can grow and patients can carry. In addition, she said, “It’s a cash operation, that kind of scares me.”

“Would we still have to allow a patient to be able to grow up to 12 plants in their house?” Mayor Vicki Barnett asked.

“I don’t think we can take their right away to grow plants in their own house,” Joppich said. “I would liken that to growing your own tomatoes.”

Barnett also asked whether current home-based operations would be “grandfathered” if the city changed the zoning rules. Those properties, Joppich said, would be “nonconforming uses” and the owners have certain rights under state law, but only if they’re lawful at the time the ordinance is amended.

“We believe a number of these operations might be unlawful in terms of growing too many plants, and many of them may not be occupied as a single family residence,” he said. 

Council member Valerie Knol supported a Planning Commission review, but did not want to limit the group to considering only industrial areas, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think a lot more people are going to be working from home, I think the office market is going to change,” she said. “Hopefully (commissioners are) being forward thinking and looking at the future of the city and what areas may need to be rezoned in the future, in light of less office space being used.”

Joppich will at a future study session present information about a 2016 state law that allows marijuana-related businesses, and a 2018 law that legalized recreational marijuana use for adults.

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