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Sterling Heights

August 14, 2014

Sterling Heights introduces medical pot regulations

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

While reflecting on a 2008 state referendum that turned over a new leaf on medical marijuana policy, the Sterling Heights City Council voted 6-0 to introduce a proposed ordinance Aug. 6 that would update marijuana regulations within the city.

According to a city memo, Sterling Heights hasn’t updated its marijuana laws since 1983, nor has it brought its drug paraphernalia laws up to date since 1993.

But according to Assistant City Attorney Donald DeNault Jr., state law has undergone a metamorphosis, and an approved 2008 state referendum approving medical marijuana means the city is due for updates to reflect that.

The 2008 initiative lets qualified people lawfully acquire, grow, use or distribute medical cannabis despite the drug being a Schedule I controlled substance. The state law also defines a relationship between patients and marijuana-growing caregivers.

City officials said they are limited in what they can regulate, but they can address the state law’s “secondary effects.” According to officials, the proposed ordinance would do the following:

• Require that cannabis growing locations be registered except for qualified patients growing their own for themselves at home.

• Ensure that registered pot-growing locations are up to code for things like plumbing and fire safety.

• Limit medical pot storage to one facility.

• Limit space used for medical marijuana to the lesser of 25 percent of a home or 200 square feet.

• Restrict a home used for medical cannabis from engaging in any other home occupations.

• Require medical weed to be delivered off-site.

• Require  that unused cannabis be disposed of by drug disposal companies.

• Prohibit weed-growing homes from showing visible signs of their activity.

• Prohibit dispensaries and cooperatives within the city.

• Mandate conformity with the state law’s restrictions in addition to regulations on carrying medical cannabis in an automobile.

During public comment, former Councilman Paul Smith encouraged a no vote on the proposal. He added that drug legalization happens with baby steps.

Smith questioned why Sterling Heights couldn’t disallow marijuana the way some communities don’t allow liquor sales.

“Just because you can smoke weed some places doesn’t mean you have to smoke it in Sterling Heights,” he said.

In response, DeNault said the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that municipalities are arms of the state, so they can’t opt out of abiding by the state medical marijuana law.

Councilman Doug Skrzyniarz said the medical marijuana issue was put to a vote by the state and the residents in 2008. He said that of the estimated 61,000 people in Sterling Heights who voted, 35,151 supported it and around 22,000 voted against it.

“So about nearly 60 percent (of) voters in this city supported this referendum that was on the ballot,” he said. “This isn’t a random act that was done by the Legislature that was forced onto the city.”

Skrzyniarz said the city was proposing the changes because there were vague parts of the referendum. He said the changes would actually toughen up the law.

“What we’re doing here is trying to clarify some of these things, specifically as it regards (to) safety and even criminal-type regulations,” he said. “We’re trying to make this safer for the residents, safer for neighbors.”

The proposal is expected to face a vote for adoption at a later council meeting.

Learn more about Sterling Heights by visiting www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1058.