What is our City Council up to these days? We have the scoop and the highlights – as well as the lowlights – of the latest council meeting
By Charles Sercombe
The City Council met on July 26, and all members were present. The meeting ran for three hours.
You could say that two hours of the meeting went up in smoke, or to be more exact, it was all about smoking.
Pot, that is, or if you want to sound more legalistic: medical marijuana.
That’s how long councilmembers spent on discussing and voting on a set of laws regulating the growth of medical marijuana and how much the city should charge in fees to set up a marijuana clinic.
And this was after a previous meeting where the council unanimously agreed on two ordinances regulating it. Ah, but the process of adopting an ordinance requires multiple readings and votes, and it also gives the council an opportunity to make last-minute amendments.
And truth be told, there was some thoughtful discussion on the subject, as well as some dead-end digressions.
And it should be noted this was the sole item to take care of.
We’ll cut to the chase and report upfront that a zoning ordinance was agreed on as well as what to charge for licensing fees.
For those of you hankering to set up a medical marijuana growing facility or compassion club, take note: the laws don’t go into effect until 14 days from today (July 29). Medical marijuana users, however, can consume their, um, product, at any time.
What’s not terribly clear about this issue is what in the heck police agencies are going to do. The state Attorney General has called for a crackdown, citing the fact that federal law still prohibits marijuana, and also the Department of Justice has reminded states and communities that marijuana is outlawed by the feds.
So … this is one complicated and politically charged issue that will certainly end up in a whole bunch of courts, and we’re going to go out on a limb and predict it will land in the lap of the U.S. Supreme Court as a states’ rights issue.
But … we digress.
This is Hamtramck, and this is how the state’s law allowing medical marijuana to be grown and consumed will play out here … at least until the feds or state police come busting in.
However, before we get to the council’s discussion, let’s start with public comment.
City Council candidate Steve Shaya questioned why the council is even entertaining a discussion on medical marijuana.
“It’s still against federal law,” he said.
A woman spoke in favor of medical marijuana, saying it has improved the health of her mother and sister who are battling cancer. She said her mother was able to gain weight using marijuana, going from 90 pounds up to 130 pounds.
A woman who identified herself as Andrea also spoke in favor of medical marijuana, saying it has helped cancer patients. She also railed against police agencies breaking into marijuana clinics.
She urged the council to “think humanistic” about the subject.
Two public hearings on the subject were held, but no one from the public spoke up.
Now, let’s get to the meat of the discussion.
Councilmember Catrina Stackpoole suggested an amendment to require caregivers who grow plants at home for others to be required to get a home business permit and abide by the zoning laws for home businesses.
That would limit the space to where marijuana can be grown at home to no more than 25 percent of the total square footage.
(Editor’s note: Interestingly, a basement is not considered part of the house when calculating total square footage. Does this mean you can grow pot plants in your entire basement as well as up to 25 percent of the space upstairs? No, said City Manager Bill Cooper. Remember, however, state law limits the number of plants that a caregiver can grow, which depends on how many patients the caregiver grows for.)
Councilmember Tom Jankowski said he doesn’t think a caregiver’s home operation should be considered a home business.
(Editor’s note: Stackpoole’s amendment would not require a caregiver who grows marijuana for only him or herself as a home business. Stackpoole said she wanted to designate a caregiver who grows plants for patients a home business as a way to protect the city’s housing stock, and to prevent people from buying up houses and turning them into marijuana growing facilities.)
Moving on, Councilmember Cathie Gordon proposed amending the ordinance to ban growing facilities from locating on Jos. Campau.
“I really don’t want them in the central business district,” she said.
Later in the meeting, Councilmember Jankowski pressed her on this issue, asking her specially what was her objection to having them set up shop on Jos. Campau.
Gordon said it’s because the businesses aren’t open to the general public, but instead only to patients.
Councilmember Stackpoole said that would be discriminating against a legitimate business.
Jankowski asked Community & Economic Development Director Jason Friedmann what his opinion is on allowing growing facilities to locate on Jos. Campau. Friedmann said with proper regulation he could see them “fitting in.”
Mayor Karen Majewski asked City Attorney Jim Allen if there is anything in the city’s zoning law that prohibits marijuana clinics operating in the central business district (which is the entire length of Jos. Campau).
Allen said that considering the zoning law allows medical clinics, pharmacies and smoke shops, there should be no restriction for these clinics.
Councilmember Gordon asked what if the clinics became a non-profit operation, which she said is restricted from locating on Jos. Campau.
Councilmember Stackpoole said it’s highly unlikely the IRS would allow a marijuana clinic to operate as a non-profit since, technically, medical marijuana still violates federal law.
Let’s cut to the vote: Except for Councilmember Shahab Ahmed, the council voted to adopt a zoning law regulating where and how medical marijuana can be grown, including Councilmember Stackpoole’s amendment requiring caregivers to register as a home business when growing plants at their home for patients.
As for the issue of banning marijuana growing facilities from Jos. Campau, that failed to gain support.
The council, except for Ahmed, also agreed what to charge commercial growing facilities.
And after a lengthy debate, the council set the commercial permit fees as follows: a one-time application fee of $1,500 and a yearly permit fee of $1,500. (Home business fees are much lower.)
Originally, the permit was set at $1,000 to apply and $5,000 a year to renew the permit.
Councilmember Stackpoole suggested lowering the fee because it was out of line with other fees charged to businesses. She said the proposed fees were “cost-prohibitive.”
City Manager Bill Cooper defended the fees, saying the verification that the city has to undertake, which is spelled out in the ordinances the city created on its own, requires a lot of time to process.
He said he agreed, however, that it could be lowered, but suggested going no lower than $2,500 or $3,000 a year.
The city’s law regulating marijuana clinics requires cross-referencing the medical numbers of patients with the state’s records.
(Editor’s note: State law does not require communities to take this step. Councilmember Stackpoole told The Review after the meeting that the council adopted the regulation in order to prevent illegal operations from setting up shop.)
Several fee structures were proposed, but in the end, the council agreed on charging $1,500 a year for a permit instead of $5,000. That fee can be changed at any time depending on what it really costs the city to complete the verification process.
Councilmember Ahmed, it should be noted, previously voted in favor of regulating medical marijuana. He later told The Review he changed his mind because of the possibility that illegal drug traffickers may set up shop. He also said medical marijuana still violates federal law.
(Editor’s note: If the council took no action at all, there would be no local law regulating medical marijuana, and since state law allows it, there would essentially be nothing stopping someone from setting up a growing facility.)
We’ll take a breather here, and maybe step outside for a “smoke” – kidding. Next week: Why are contractors and employees of contractors calling Councilmember Jankowski? And, should this be a concern for the city administration?