Watson Twp. officials discuss medical marijuana ordinance

Lori Castello of PCI explains issues and possibilities with a medical marijuana facility ordinance while Watson Trustee Churck Andrysiak listens.

The special joint meeting Wednesday night of the Watson Township Board and Planning Commission on medical marijuana didn’t produce any decisions except that work on crafting an ordinance would continue.

All Township Board members and all but two commissioners talked things over for more than two hours with an audience of about 20 people. No members of the public spoke in opposition.

The State Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law that would let local governments decide if they will permit marijuana facilities for growing, processing and dispensing medical marijuana to qualified partients.

If Watson adopts an ordinance, it will be the first municipality in the northeast quadrant of Allegan County to permit such activity.

Lori Castello from Professional Code Inspections provided local officials with a model ordinance adopted by the City of Buchanan and outlined some key provisions and issues. Officials almost unanimously indicated a preference for legitimizing medical marijuana facilities by special use than by right because the former provides more local control.

However, there was some disagreement about where medical marijuana facilities could be established. Treasurer Sue Jones and Trustees Chuck Andrysiak and Michelle Harris insisted the growing, processing and transport facilities be permitted only in commercially zoned areas.

Supervisor Kevin Travis said he favors them in agricultural zones because growing is an essential part of the process.

It was later pointed out by some licensed providers in the audience that the Medical Marijuana Act of 2008 forbade facilities in commercial zones, and permitted them only in agricultural and industrial zoning. This prompted a switch to industrial.

Travis said location could be important and only 2 percent of the township currently is zoned commercial or industrial, most of it along 12th Street and M-222, not far from the U.S.-131 expressway.

One of the licensed growers in the township said he and his partner are looking at constructing a 7200-square-foot facility for up to 1500 plants.

Some concerns were brought up about transport of the product grown in the township, but Castello said, “It would be similar to a Brinks truck… it’s very highly regulated.”

Several members of the audience insisted that vehicles used for transport would be unmarked and more likely to be vans or SUVs.

One member of the audience objected, “I’m concerned you are limiting business. I don’t understand why you want to do that.”

Harris said an informal survey of township residents revealed a majority in opposition, but virtually no one opposed has attended any of the several meetings the township has had on the issue in the last year. Furthermore, the survey did not allow anonymity, which may have reduced its accuracy.

Harris suggested having a couple of town hall meetings for the public to provide input before getting serious about crafting an ordinance.

Travis said many local law enforcement officials are opposed to having this kind of ordinance adopted and Clerk Kelli Morris said, “There is plenty of room for this, but we don’t need it in this township.”

Further clouding the issue is the state-wide referendum ballot issue on making recreational marijuana legal, planned for next May.

Travis suggested the township issue three Class C licenses, for up to 1500 plants. Though more than that many have expressed interest, it is widely believed the numbers will be reduced because of the expense and regulations.

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