November 19 • 03:35 PM

Dryden at forefront of marijuana issue

Council member challenges location of dispensary in relation to federal 'drug-free school zone' laws

July 14, 2010
DRYDEN — Village Council member Stan Roszczewski believes the location of a downtown medical marijuana facility is not in compliance with federal "drug-free school zone" regulations.

Roszczewski made that point, and others, during public comment time at the council's July 5 meeting.

His concerns focus on the opening four months ago of the Compassionate Care Center at 5493 Main Street; a facility that provides assistance to physician-authorized patients who use marijuana for the treatment of pain, nausea and other medical conditions.

In November 2008, Michigan residents voted 63-37 percent to legalize marijuana for medically-approved purposes. Since then, municipalities across the state have been trying to find ways to control and minimize the spread of medical marijuana dispensaries.

At the request of the village, Zoning Administrator Gyrome Edwards recently measured the distance between the facility and

Dryden Elementary School. The distance was found to be 960 feet, less than the 1,000 feet of separation mandated by the federal drug-free schools law. In Michigan, the law requires a distance of 500 feet.

Roszczewski alleges that the finding, along with the building's lack of handicap access, should be enough to close down the facility.

However, he says the vagueness of laws pertaining to medical marijuana and care facilities makes that difficult to do.

"This thing is so in a fog that nobody knows or understands the regulations governing these facilities," said Roszczewski. "The location is non-compliant. It's in an upstairs apartment considered a residence and there's no handicap access. How are they allowed to do this?

"Other people coming into town have to comply, but they don't have to abide by the same rules," he said. "Right now, we have no control over them."

Council president Pat Betcher looks at the matter differently, suggesting that state law supercedes federal statute in the matter. He said the U.S. Attorney General's office has issued an order to not enforce federal laws where they are in contrast with state laws.

"There are differing opinions," said Betcher. "It's all about the interpretation of the act. My opinion is that I support them (medical marijuana dispensaries) as long as they follow the law.

"There are some people who just don't want them and will reject them no matter what," Betcher continued. "The Lapeer County Prosecutor's office will have to decide how the law is going to be enforced."

Roszczewski thinks Dryden is being used as a "guinea pig" to help test the law. He said confusion about the new law creates loopholes for proponents and owners of care facilities.

"This whole thing came over us like a tidal wave," he said. "At first they told us they were going to move into another building (old Muir Building) on the south side."

That structure has since been deemed a "dangerous building" and cleared for demolition by Circuit Court Judge Nick Holowka.

"I think there's a lot of anger among residents," said Roszczewski. "They're frustrated with the inconsistencies.

"We hear we might be able to pursue some type of class action (as a test case)," he said, "but that would have to go through the whole court system. We don't have money for that."

In the interim, Roszczewski and other village officials are awaiting a legal opinion from their attorney, Gary Howell. His recommendation to the village planning commission could determine a future course of action.

"Our only option seems to be to do something through zoning," said Roszczewski. "That may be the only way we'll have any control."

Edwards pointed out that his role as zoning administrator is subject to the wishes of the village council.

"The council has not instructed any enforcement yet," said Edwards. "Until directed to do so, I can't issue tickets.

"The people voted yes on medical marijuana," he continued. "Until we get a motion that the village wants to be a test case, I can't take action. I would rather proceed cautiously."

Roszczewski admitted that Michigan's passage of the medical marijuana act leaves opponents with few options.

"People had the opportunity to vote it down in 2008," he said. "A lot of them say they didn't know about it. They should have voted. Some of the biggest complainers now are those who didn't vote."

Roszczewski's concerns and opinions could be moot based on Lapeer County Prosecutor Byron Konschuh's interpretation of the law.

"If someone has a doctor's authorization and a state-sanctioned card to use medical marijuana, I would be hard-pressed to bring criminal charges, even in a school zone," said Konschuh. "Until a higher court tells me differently, I'm leaning toward thinking that medical marijuana would not be in violation.

"You still can't use marijuana in public and certainly not in a school zone," he continued. "Of course if someone doesn't have a card and is on school property, they can be charged."

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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