Lansing – The city’s long-awaited ordinance on medical marijuana could be approved by City Council next month because Planning Board members appeared Tuesday willing to accept zoning regulations that would limit the number of establishments that sell marijuana.
Planning Board members are expected to review the ordinance again at their Oct. 4 meeting. City Council is likely to schedule an Oct 24 public hearing at City Hall. A vote from the full eight-member council could follow that night.
The Planning Board’s Oct. 4 meeting is expected to take place 6:30 p.m. at the Neighborhood Empowerment Center, 600 W. Maple St. It will be open to the public.
At-Large Council Member Carol Wood, who attended Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting, is hopeful the council can vote and approve the ordinance by the end of October.
“I’ve learned to take this one day at a time,” said Wood, when asked afterward what the chances are of approving the ordinance this fall. “I think that’s the most important thing; taking it one day at a time, getting where we need to be and taking it from there.”
City officials are expected to present a map at the Planning Board’s Oct. 4 meeting that shows where medical marijuana establishments would be allowed to open under the zoning regulations proposed in the ordinance. Medical marijuana establishments are defined under Lansing’s proposed ordinance as any medical marijuana provisioning centers (also known as a dispensaries), caregiver centers, grower facilities, processor facilities and safety compliance facilities.
The council’s Public Safety Committee and the City Attorney’s Office decided last week in the ordinance’s latest draft – its sixth this year – that medical marijuana establishments must be at least 1,000 feet from schools, child care centers, parks and playgrounds. Proposed zoning regulations also say medical marijuana etablishments must be at least 500 feet away from other medical marijuana establishments, churches and substance abuse treatment centers.
Planning Board Member Marta Cerna expressed concern in Tuesday’s meeting that the ordinance could allow too many establishments. Citing statistics from a state Licensing and Regulatory Affairs report that said there were 6,982 licensed medical marijuana patients in Ingham County last year, Cerna suggested that “one location or two can service this amount” of patients.
Cerna, however, and three other board members didn’t appear to take issue with the proposed ordinance’s general framework. Strict city-wide regulations for medical marijuana establishments and a new licensing procedure they must follow would likely reduce the number of dispensaries throughout the city.
Lansing currently doesn’t have a cap on medical marijuana establishments and hasn’t confirmed how many currently operate, although the Lansing State Journal counted approximately 55 in late July. A city-wide moratorium on opening new establishments went into effect May 12.
Uncertainty in Lansing about the medical marijuana industry hasn’t stopped W*edmaps, a Irvine, California-based company, from promoting its brand in the city. Founded in 2008, the company bills itself as “the leading marijuana dispensary, delivery and retail finder, and a multiple platform digital hub for the global marijuana community.”
Its website currently lists 18 dispensaries in Lansing that are rated one to five stars and have customer reviews. At least two billboards for W*edmaps have been posted in the city, one along Interstate 496 and another on West Saginaw Highway.
Chris Beals, W*edmaps’ president and general counsel, told the Lansing State Journal this week the company employs 260 people, is growing quickly and tracks closely markets like Lansing that appear more willing to embrace medical marijuana than others.
“We are like any other company, and yeah, we deal with the stigmas all of the time,” Beals said. “People think all the time the marijuana industry is being ran by a bunch of either goons or sleepy stoners. That misconception is changing slowly, but it’s sort of one of those things where it’s two steps forward, one step back.”
If Lansing’s ordinance is approved, Wood said in Tuesday that no owners of medical marijuana establishments currently open will have a “vested right” to stay open in the city without a license.
The ordinance requires all medical marijuana establishments to obtain a license from the city through the City Clerk’s Office. The city currently doesn’t require licenses for establishments.
The current proposal does not include a cap on the number of dispensaries. A proposed 2011 ordinance on medical marijuana would have capped the number of dispensaries in the city at 42. That ordinance stalled as the city waited for state clarification on dispensaries, which were not part of the Medical Marihauna Act voters approved in 2008.
The latest draft ordinance says each application for a license would require a fee of about $3,000, although several higher figures have been discussed in earlier versions. If an application is denied, the applicant would get about $1,500 returned. If a license is issued, the first annual fee would be $1,500 with an additional $1,500 fee each year.
If City Council’s full eight-member body approves the ordinance next month, enforcement could begin on or before Dec. 1.