Zoned Out

Zoned Out

By: Denise Pollicella for Culture Magazine

Whenever a client tells me they want to grow marihuana, my first question is always, “What city?”

One of the unfortunate consequences of a state regulatory vacuum is that it leaves our approximately 1,850 municipalities to their own devices, which has resulted in approximately 1,850 different zoning ordinances. They run the gamut from stubborn reliance on antiquated 1970s policy to blanket prohibitions based on federal law to verbose, overbroad tripe full of the city attorney’s apocalyptic Drug War rantings. The most troubling part is that not only do many, many of these ordinances violate the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA), but they place blatant restrictions on our constitutional liberties.

Zoning restrictions are an old trick used by local governments to keep unsavory activities out of their pristine communities. Think adult book store. I keep a collection of my favorite marihuana ordinances in my office, but I’ll share a sample of the most egregious offenders. One township adopted a rambling, preachy ordinance prohibiting a caregiver from having more than one patient, requiring the patient to live with the caregiver, and prohibiting the caregiver from being compensated. Huh? Another prohibits businesses from providing any assistance to medical marihuana patients, which to them means a non-profit cannot provide caregiver-patient matching services. Read strictly, it also prohibits a doctor from certifying a patient’s use of marihuana, and prohibits an attorney from counseling a client who is a patient. A township in Oakland County wrote me a letter forbidding me from giving a seminar because its ordinance prohibits any activities related to marihuana. Okay, so let’s say that again. It tried to stop me from freely speaking and its residents from freely assembling. Hello? First Amendment ring any bells?

To which my client always responds, “But how can they do that?” with this adorable look of incredulousness and betrayal, like they still think their government plays by the rules. And the answer is: because nobody has stopped them yet.

This is what happens when a state government refuses to lead. Our state’s feigned apprehension of federal drug law has operated as its excuse for paralysis, allowing the Michigan countryside to become a patchwork of inequitable nonsense that traps its citizens instead of guides them. In their efforts, initially aimed at keeping out dispensaries and large commercial grow operations, they have way overstepped their bounds.

That is not to say that a municipality cannot appropriately restrict growing and dispensing through zoning. The City of Warren, for example, prohibits cultivation on commercial property, but permits residential and industrial grows. Ferndale’s ordinance is reasonable and flexible, following the state law while creating neutral zoning restrictions. Fair enough.

At which point my client almost always asks, “What can I do?” Above all, don’t underestimate your own efficacy. Educate yourself on your local zoning rules, and consult with a competent attorney if needed. Take your civic leaders to task and demand reasonable, neutral ordinances that comply with state law.  Community by community, we can affect positive change. Happy growing.