GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Supreme Court is allowing cities and townships to regulate where caregivers can grow their plants.
The ruling is a big change for those so-called caregivers who grow medical marijuana for other people.
It’s a significant win for municipalities who up until Tuesday have been seemingly prohibited from restricting where caregivers can grow medical marijuana.
It started in 2016 when caregiver Christie DeRuiter was growing marijuana at a warehouse facility in Byron Township. The township demanded she stop, citing its zoning ordinance that restricted growing as a home operation, meaning it could only be done in residential areas.
“Her choice on one of the few areas in the township where it was not permitted is what created the conflict,” told Craig Nolan, attorney Byron Township, the justices during arguments in October.
The township was shot down by Kent County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan. His decision was upheld by the Michigan Court of Appeals, which found that the voter-approved Medical Marijuana Act did not allow for the zoning.
The township brought the case to the high court, along with supporting amicus briefs from the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Townships Association.
“If you grant application, if you don’t correct this decision, you might as well shut the door and throw away the key for zoning regulation and land use,” Noland argued.
In its brand-new decision, the state’s highest court made it clear that they believe municipalities can regulate zoning for medical marijuana grow facilities. That intention seemed clear from the direction of questions the justices asked of attorneys.
“Say your client wants to build a skyscraper next door to where I live, are they able to do that as long as it has a lock on the front door?” Justice David Viviano asked of DeRuiter’s attorney Mark Dodge.
“Cities and townships would really be powerless to do any zoning whatsoever if the court of appeals opinion were able to stand,” Justice Richard Berstein said.
Nolan that unlike a Wyoming ordinance that was struck down by the court in 2014 because it functionally prohibited any growing in the city, the Byron Township only regulates the growth.
“Zoning essentially governs the location of legal permissible, indeed constitutionally protected land uses,” Nolan said.
His argument carried the day. In a unanimous decision, the court allowed for reasonable zoning for caregiver growing. The term reasonable will likely be something fought over in courts for years to come.
“This could be the start of the narrowing of caregiving activities and this is what a lot of people kind of feared,” said attorney Barton Morris, founder of Cannabis Legal Group, on Tuesday. “It’s going to lead to a lot of cities coming out with new ordinances that are restricting caregiving activities.”
He said caregivers are now going to have to seek permission from municipalities before starting an operation, something they have typically not done in the past.
“It’s going to have a big impact. This is a big change from what we’ve had, including the Supreme Court order, as you said,” Morris said.
What kind of changes will likely vary as some municipalities have embraced marijuana, both medical and recreation, while others have made it clear that marijuana is unwelcome.
“Usually, a city will do something about it when there are a lot of complaints,” Morris said. “Overall, caregivers haven’t been much of a problem.”
But Morris says it’s not the end of the world for marijuana in Michigan.
“I think ultimately we’re still in a very good place in Michigan. We’re still one of only 12 states that have legalized marijuana,” he said.
Tuesday’s court decision can be found online.