SOUTHFIELD — A proposed plan to regulate facilities where authorized caregivers can grow medical marijuana and provide it to their patients was shot down by the Southfield City Council Jan. 18 after a public hearing drew many concerned residents.
Some 60 people filled the audience in council chambers, 16 of whom spoke out against the proposed plan, including two attorneys, one of whom directly threatened to sue the city.
Council voted unanimously against the proposed regulatory plan — which would have limited such facilities to districts zoned light industrial with strict parameters, allowing for only 20 possible locations in the city — citing a need for more research and a clearer vision of how the law is affecting other communities. Council also voted 6-1 to extend a moratorium on the matter another 180 days. Councilmember Sid Lantz was the lone dissenter, calling marijuana “poison” and expressing his lack of support for the law altogether.
But 63 percent of Michigan voters approved the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes in November of 2008, including 69 percent of Southfield residents.
The law was ambiguous, however, leaving some residents unsure of what they’d voted for and cities unaware of how to control the effects of legalization.
“When you think of medical marijuana, you think it’s going to be dispensed by pharmacies as well as being controlled by the FDA,” said Southfield resident Noah King. “I believe when we first voted on this, a lot of people had the perception that this would be controlled by the federal government. It has now fallen onto Southfield city.”
Sabina Heller, a resident of the city for 45 years, said she was misled to vote in favor of the law. She said she supported the use of marijuana “for cancer or someone who has severe pain, not someone who has a headache.”
“The ballot was ambiguous,” said resident Pamela Gerald. “I think they voted for the privilege for people to have it for their debilitating illnesses, but I don’t think they voted to have 20-32 (facilities) in their community.”
Walter Mison expressed having “deep reservations because of the fear of misuse and abuse.”
John Smith, whose wife is a hospice nurse, said that while he’s “very much aware of the value of marijuana, because there are many patients who cannot get comfort from any other (source),” the ordinance as laid out made it difficult for those to grow it out of their home for a family member who is sick. He advised council to wait a bit longer.
“I think it would be smarter to wait until the law shakes out,” Smith said. “The law was not well drawn out. I think the moratorium — just wait and see — would be the smartest approach.”
Stephanie English said she voted in favor of the law but is worried about the city’s resources and ability to regulate.
“I’m concerned about the stretch of resources when it comes to enforcement-wise,” English said. “If we’re not adding to the police force, who is going to be responsible for the regulation? … It does stretch and drain the police resources. … As a taxpayer, I’ve got to look at the infrastructure as a whole and what’s going to happen with the future landscape.”
Gail Williams-Nichols said she was completely against the city allowing facilities to distribute marijuana to patients.
“The police can’t be everywhere, and we can’t keep hiring people,” she said. “Then you get the criminal activity that will come with it, which is only hand-in-hand with anything called drugs. I’m totally opposed to this and I think we should keep it out of Southfield. Stick it somewhere else. … Where we don’t have to get (broken) into. And robbed. And beaten. And everything else that goes along with drugs.”
Monday’s meeting was the ninth one held publicly by city officials discussing the medical marijuana issue since a moratorium was issued last July.
“This falls upon cities to try to weave our way through this,” said City Councilman Don Fracassi. “The voters unintentionally put it in our hands to try to regulate and control it. I give our Department of Planning director and our legal staff a lot of credit for weaving through this thing and coming up with a proposal. … I think that in good conscience, everyone has studied it as thoroughly as they could. We have enough situations in our city where police have to react to and EMS have to react to without babysitting all these dispensaries.”
City Councilwoman Janna Garrison said something has to be done to deal with the issue, as it was voted into law by the people more than two years ago.
“We have to get this right,” Garrison said. “I don’t want to have the conversation anymore about whether marijuana is a good drug or a poisonous drug — that is not the fight anymore. … People who are suffering deserve to have this medication to help them.”
Lantz was the most vocal of council members, focusing his remarks on his opposition to the law itself, calling marijuana a “dangerous drug,” the legalization of which — even for medical purposes — will lead to an increase in crime and drain the city’s resources, he said.
“This city is going to go to hell,” Lantz said, angrily denouncing the law and accusing his fellow council members of pushing the issue. “They must have a motive. Something is wrong with this city and it’s going to get worse. (Southfield is) the center of it all? We’re going to be the center of the pot regimes in the state.”
Lantz also challenged attorney Neil Rockind, who spoke up during the time set aside for public comments, reporting that he’d filed a lawsuit against Bloomfield Township and wouldn’t hesitate to do so in Southfield if the city violated the law.
“Sue us,” Lantz said to Rockind.
You can reach Staff Writer Jennie Miller at email@example.com or at (586) 279-1108.