Amended Huntington Woods Code Covers Medical Marijuana Providers

The Huntington Woods City Commission addressed the issue of medical marijuana Tuesday night by, well, not addressing it all.

After many months, nine meetings and lots of head scratching, the Planning Commission decided that rather than enact an ordinance in response to the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act of 2008, it would be more sensible to treat primary caregivers as any other business. As such, primary caregivers will be covered under a portion of the city code that the commissioners amended during their meeting Tuesday at City Hall.

“By not licensing and enforcing zoning regulations that pertain only to medical marihuana, the Planning Commission believes the city will not be drawn into the federal and state conflict over whether medical marihuana is legal or illegal,” City Planner Bonnie Cook wrote in a letter to the commission.

Instead, the amendments clarify the home occupation, site plan review and special land use requirements for all businesses.

The amended code does not address individual qualifying patients, who are permitted to grow up to 12 plants in a residence for their own use, out of respect for the overwhelming support Huntington Woods voters threw behind the medical marijuana law. “79% of Huntington Woods voters approved the ballot initiative vs. 63% state-wide,” Cook noted in her letter.

However, primary caregivers, who are allowed to treat five patients, grow 60 plants and can profit from the enterprise, are covered under the amended city code, Cook said. The code already prohibited “primary caregiver” as a home-based occupation in the Huntington Woods.

“We took the posture it is a business because they can grow it for profit,” Cook said.

Accordingly, primary caregivers will be allowed to operate in the Zone 3 – Business District, which includes select sites along 11 Mile Road and Coolidge Highway. Because they are in a category of businesses that require a special use permit, each primary caregiver will have to undergo a site plan review and go before the Planning Commission to secure a special land use permit. State law allows for conditions to be placed on special land uses.

Special land use permits require a public hearing and notification of property owners within 300 feet of a  proposed business. Under the amended code, applicants would have to pay for the costs associated with the hearing and notifications.

“The taxpayer at large should not have to subsidize this particular user,” City Manager Alex Allie said.

Larger-scale operations known as dispensaries are not addressed in the amended city code. “It’s our opinion, as we read the state law, that it doesn’t provide for dispensaries,” Cook said.

Commissioner Jules Olsman, who noted that other municipalities have wound up entangled in costly litigation over the medical marijuana law, was pleased with the amended city code.

“This will serve as a model for other cities to just incorporate it and moderate it as you would any other business,” he said. “Talk about saving the taxpayers money. This is the way to do it.”