MI: Lansing's Proposed Medical Marijuana Ordinance Stays On Hold


Lansing – It could take awhile before City Council votes on a proposed medical marijuana ordinance that’s been changed, debated and delayed for several months.

Until a new ordinance is brought to Council’s full eight-member body and approved, the city will continue following an ordinance created in 2011 that doesn’t include a licensing process for medical marijuana dispensaries and other related establishments. It lets the facilities operate at their own peril.

Mayor Virg Bernero said this week now is not the time to panic about the lack of a new ordinance. He would prefer city officials take more time crafting regulations that follow recent changes in state law, ensure safety in neighborhoods and allow for economic development opportunities rather than rush approval of an ordinance that isn’t well-researched, fair to business owners, caregivers and patients and is difficult to enforce.

We need to be methodical, we need to be careful, we need to get it right," Bernero said this week. "We have the opportunity to set the standard around the state."

At Monday’s City Council meeting, a vote failed that would have held a public hearing this month to discuss potential repeal of the city’s 2011 ordinance. The public hearing, which was proposed for Oct. 24, could have helped generate momentum for an eventual vote on the proposed new ordinance, currently on its sixth draft. The proposed ordinance has been reviewed for several months by council’s three-member Committee on Public Safety.

Meanwhile, the city continues its a moratorium on the opening of new dispensaries and related establishments that’s been in place since May. But it’s unclear whether the moratorium has been enforced. The city has no record of how many dispensaries and other related establishments are currently open. A Lansing State Journal reporter counted 55 open in the city at the end of July. The city currently doesn’t have a cap on medical marijuana establishments.

At-Large Council Member Carol Wood, chair of the public safety committee, said she’s concerned that all the hard work behind creating the proposed ordinance could be wasted. She doesn’t understand why the city can’t move forward with the new ordinance, which she said was well-researched by the City Attorney’s Office and should hold up with recent changes to state law.

"What were telling the public is that we cant get it right, Wood said.

City Attorney Jim Smierkta sent a letter to Bernero and Council President Judi Brown Clarke on Oct. 4 which asked for a delay in the process of evaluating the proposed ordinance for 60 days. Smiertka mentions in the letter that proposed seventh draft of the proposed ordinance was presented to the Planning Board "from outside groups for the board consideration."

"Because Lansing has been so out ahead of other Michigan municipalities in fashioning an ordinance that substantially mirrors state law, it is important that we do this correctly so that the ordinance can serve as a state model and so that litigation against it can be successfully defended," Smiertka wrote.

Smiertka’s letter also mentions his office’s efforts to draft "a companion ordinance" to address illegal medical marijuana grow operations in neighborhoods.

Based on Smiertka’s request, the city’s eight-member Planning Board, whose members are appointed by Bernero, tabled its review of the ordinance. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 1. The 6:30 p.m. meeting will be held at the Neighborhood Empowerment Center, 600 W. Maple St., and is open to the public.

Smiertka said Tuesday he requested the delay because there are several issues still to be studied, including how the city’s proposed ordinance could be enforced under recent changes to state laws. He said there are also "economic development issues" that he declined to explain in detail and suggested his office’s review of the ordinance could be complete in less than 60 days. Smiertka’s letter addressed to Bernero and Clarke mentions that economic development opportunities "will be created in the very near future."

Its just a period of further study now," said Smiertka, when asked Tuesday about the proposed ordinance’s progress. Smiertka added it’s better to keep the ordinance created in 2011 in place because it’s at least better than than no ordinance at all. The current ordinance puts more pressure on the state to regulate dispensaries and other related facilities. In 2013, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that dispensaries could be shut down using the state’s public nuisance law.

Lansing police currently respond to complaints about provisioning centers and other medical marijuana establishments that are forwarded to the City Attorney’s Office. Police Chief Michael Yankowski said in August there weren’t enough resources within the department to determine the validity of each complain. He, however, expressed confidence that his department will be ready to enforce a new ordinance that requires licenses and has zoning restrictions – if it is approved.

Three bills signed into law last month by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder do appear to affect how cities like Lansing can regulate medical marijuana. The bills give local governments authority to regulate the location and number of medical marijuana provisioning centers and allow marijuana-infused products. The laws also allow for creation of a "seed-to-sale" tracking system to ensure that marijuana dispensed to state-approved patients has been tested for safety, create a Medical Marijuana Licensing Board, establish a framework for licensing fees and set annual assessments and a 3% tax on retail gross income.

Changes in the law compliment Michigan’s Medical Marihuana Act of 2008, which allows use of marijuana for medical reasons by people who have been authorized by a physician to hold a state-issued medical marijuana card. It also allows patients and caregivers to cultivate medical marijuana plants. But the original law did not mention dispensaries, leading to a confusing array of legal rulings.

Bernero sees an opportunity for Lansing to benefit from the presence of a safe, well-regulated medical marijuana industry that has safeguards in place to prevent public nuisance and safety concerns for residents.

I don’t want to regulate the industry out of existence because I think it could lead to a lot of jobs and a big boom for our economy." Bernero said. The mayor added that he sees no "emergency" or "crime explosion" in Lansing regarding medical marijuana because the city is committed to enforcing all laws.

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 proposed 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.

The council’s Public Safety Committee and the City Attorney’s Office decided in the proposed ordinance’s latest draft 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 establishments must be at least 500 feet away from other medical marijuana establishments, churches and substance abuse treatment centers.

The ordinance requires all medical marijuana establishments to obtain a license from the city through the City Clerk’s Office.

Clarke, the City Council president, said she’s trying to stay patient during the process to craft fair medical marijuana policy and has had several constituents contact her thinking the proposed ordinance requiring licenses has already been approved. Clarke said she doesn’t want there to be "unintended consequences" if the current ordinance created in 2011 is challenged legally.

"Were not answering one question, were answering like fifty," Clarke said of the current review process. Its not going to be easy (to get a new ordinance approved), and its not supposed to easy if were thoughtful."

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Lansing’s Proposed Medical Marijuana Ordinance Stays On Hold
Author: Eric Lacy
Contact: 1-517-377-1000
Photo Credit: Julia Nagy
Website: Lansing State Journal