Split Ypsilanti City Council approves first reading of medical marijuana licensing procedures
In a split 4-3 vote, the Ypsilanti City Council passed a first reading Tuesday of a resolution detailing the licensing process for medical marijuana dispensaries.
The primary changes made to the resolution at Tuesday night's meeting included a clarification over whose name should be on a dispensary application. A stipulation requiring a process for tracking the amount of medical marijuana at a dispensary was also modified due to concern over HIPPA privacy rules for patient names.
Instead, operators would be required to track the number of caregivers and patients, as well as a dispensary's medical marijuana inventory so the city can determine whether the facility meets state requirements for a legal quantity of the drug.
The particulars of the licensing process have been debated by the council for weeks, and Council Member Brian Robb proposed about a dozen amendments at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Robb, Council Member Ricky Jefferson and Council Mayor Pro Tem Lois Richardson voted against the resolution.
Robb objected to what he sees as a flawed and restrictive licensing procedure. Jefferson and Richardson voiced more general concerns about medical marijuana dispensaries.
The issue was was previously debated at the council's Jan. 11 meeting, and was tabled following public comment on the resolution. Since then, City Planner Teresa Gillotti has made numerous revisions to the proposal.
One of the more hotly debated rules at Tuesday's meeting would prohibit applicants with a felony conviction from applying for a dispensary license. Robb argued in favor of allowing anyone with a felony conviction in the past five or 10 years to still hold a license.
He pointed to the council's recent decision to remove a box from city employment applications asking if a person is a felon.
“I think it’s hypocritical that council didn’t revise that,” he said Tuesday. “It’s okay for a felon to get a job with the city and work with constituents, but they can't open up a store on Michigan Avenue?”
Robb also objected to a rule requiring applicants to detail a security plan for their business. He said that wasn’t asked of any other type of business.
“We don’t require anyone else to (detail) a security system — banks, jewelry stores — so why would we require a medical marijuana facility to provide that?" he asked. “That was one of those things the Police Department wanted, but I thought it was excessive information and there’s no need for it.”
Robb also objected to requiring dispensary applicants to produce proof of fire insurance. He argued that that was a lessor/lessee issue.
Meanwhile, Gillotti clarified several points in her proposal revision following the council's Jan. 11 meeting. For groups, partnerships or LLC's that apply for a license, the "highest level official" will submit personal information and agree to a background check.
In addition, the person in charge of the dispensary's day-to-day operations would be required to apply and agree to a background check.
“For us, if we have an issue, we know who to contact,” Gillotti said Tuesday.
A provision limiting the number of dispensaries to one for every 2,000 residents was also deleted during Gilloti's revision process. She said there were already provisions in the zoning ordinance that require dispensaries to operate at least 500 feet from one another and 1,000 feet from schools.
“I talked with legal counsel and we thought it might be getting us kind of close to a legal issue with being overly restrictive or exclusive,” she said.
The city proposal would also require medical marijuana dispensaries to post a disclaimer measuring at least 11 by 17 inches stating that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
The proposal offers a 30-day grace period for the city’s existing dispensary, the 3rd Coast Compassion Center, to submit applications before any others are accepted. Other applicants would have 45 days from the passage of the licensing rules to submit their paperwork. Applications would be reviewed on a first come, first served basis.
During the meeting, Robb questioned why the licensing procedures were not based on criteria instead, meaning that the first person to submit an application and meet certain requirements would get a license. He argued that if the city received two applications to open a dispensary at locations within 500 feet of one another, then the city should be able to weigh which was better.
“I think we should be driving this process and instead we’re letting the process drive us,” he said.
Mayor Paul Schreiber said the issue that concerned him most was a lack of direction from the state. He said he feared a lawsuit from people who find the ordinances too restrictive, and from those who oppose medical marijuana.
“This is making it tough on Ypsilanti, and I think we’re doing the best we can,” he said.
He said he was pleased that the first reading passed and that city staff can start to focus some of their energies on looming issues, such as the budget.
“It was an arduous process, and there were some good points that were brought up,” he said. “It’s totally new ground and it’s not surprising it would be hard and emotional process. But I think the good news is we passed it on first reading.”
Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at 734-623-2530 or email@example.com.