Ann Arbor officials delay vote on medical marijuana ordinance for fourth time, continue to tweak fine print
Ann Arbor's medical marijuana licensing ordinance remains a work in progress after going through several more revisions at Monday's City Council meeting.
Council members continued reworking the regulations drafted by the city attorney's office, but ultimately decided to postpone the issue to their Feb. 22 meeting. It marks the fourth time the council has delayed voting on the ordinance in the last two months.
Mayor John Hieftje said the city is in no rush to get anything adopted. However, a moratorium on new dispensaries remains in effect until the regulations are finalized.
Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, took the lead Monday night and walked city officials through the latest series of changes. One of the amendments removes the requirement that names and addresses of physicians who will render services at a dispensary or cultivation facility must be listed on a license application.
Council members also debated whether "a description of the products and services to be provided" by dispensaries and cultivation facilities needs to be on applications. Ultimately, only four council members said they wanted that information, so the requirement was lifted.
Another of the changes eases the rules for security measures. The ordinance still states dispensaries and cultivation facilities must keep recordings from security cameras for at least 72 hours, but they no longer have to be stored in a secure off-site location.
Council members agreed that before the city issues any licenses, owners of dispensaries and cultivation facilities must provide proof of certain types of insurance. They also decided that if a business is a combined dispensary and cultivation facility it will require two licenses.
More information will be required on marijuana product labels, based on changes council members made Monday night. There now must be warning labels that state the products can cause health problems and drowsiness, caution against driving or using heavy machinery, and state that marijuana should be kept out of the reach of children.
The labels also must state the products can't be used in any way that conflicts with the state's medical marijuana act, or used by anyone who doesn't have a medical marijuana card.
The City Council still hasn't addressed the issue of whether people with felony marijuana convictions should be allowed to run dispensaries and cultivation facilities. City officials called that a complex issue and said they're still in the fact-finding stage.
A handful of medical marijuana advocates addressed the council at Monday's meeting, calling for more changes to the licensing ordinance.
Chuck Ream, who opened a dispensary on Packard Road last summer, said he thought the "legislative intent" section was "highly negative, threatening and pejorative." He said it should note that the Ann Arbor community is supportive of medical marijuana and that the city's 2004 charter amendment on medical marijuana protects patients from harassment.
Ream also objected to requiring listing "lots of names in public view" on licenses that are posted on dispensary walls. Noting that many people involved in the medical marijuana trade have been the victims of robbery and other violent crimes, he said that would be insensitive.
"Yes, there should be a contact person, but you don't put a whole list of names on the wall for every junkie or robber to see," he said.
Responding to that concern, Council Member Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward, convinced his peers to reduce the number of people required to be identified on a license to a single authorized person plus the business managers, if there are any.
Ream objected to the requirement that cultivation facilities and dispensaries must keep records of the people from whom they receive marijuana and must make those lists available to the city upon request. He said that's "completely unnecessary" since, by his interpretation of state law, anyone who brings cannabis to a dispensary must be a licensed caregiver.
"It's an unnecessary regulation that would drive out the little guy," he said, adding only the "big boys" who are "really lawyered up and ready to fight" would agree to be on such a list where they readily admit to violating federal law.
T.J. Rice, who was convicted of growing marijuana back in the 1990s and remains a drug felon as a result, said his biggest concern is protecting patients' privacy rights. Rice said Ann Arbor has a "rich history" as a pro-cannabis community and he hopes that's reflected.
"I hope that as we go forward that the city charter is not forgotten in this process," he said. "It explains to the letter what we wish upon our council to enact and follow."
Dennis Hayes, an Ann Arbor lawyer who specializes in drug law, agreed with Rice that the licensing ordinance should specifically reference the 2004 city charter amendment. He also discouraged the city from forcing dispensary owners to keep lists of marijuana providers.
Ann Arbor resident Tony Keene, a consultant in the medical marijuana industry, offered a different opinion than the other medical marijuana advocates at Monday's meeting. He said he thinks Ann Arbor should completely ban dispensaries.
"It's time to look at these dispensaries and shut them down, because they're giving a bad name to medical marijuana," he said. "And there's no need for them."
Rhory Gould, another medical marijuana advocate, expressed an opposite concern, questioning why the proposed licensing ordinance would cap the number of dispensary licenses at 20 and cultivation facility licenses at 10.
Noting there's been an influx of patients coming to Ann Arbor from outlying communities like Saline, Milan and Chelsea, Gould said he could see having a cap on the number of marijuana businesses allowed downtown, but more should be allowed elsewhere in the city.
"We believe it's important that people have choices," he said, adding it helps keep prices lower and ensure businesses provide a high level of service.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529.