Tuesday, August 4, 2020

EL might legalize marijuana in the near future

April 20, 2018
City council members take a moment to deliberate during the city council meeting on March 26, 2018 at the East Lansing City Hall. Residents and pro-marijuana activists gathered to voice their concern over medical marijuana dispensaries being denied operational rights in the city of Lansing.
City council members take a moment to deliberate during the city council meeting on March 26, 2018 at the East Lansing City Hall. Residents and pro-marijuana activists gathered to voice their concern over medical marijuana dispensaries being denied operational rights in the city of Lansing. —
Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

Buying legal marijuana inside East Lansing city limits is closer to a reality than before. 

East Lansing’s city government is working to amend ordinance 1416A, which would allow marijuana provisioning centers, or dispensaries, in a special overlay district.  

Ordinance 1395, effective Dec. 20, 2017, allows for marijuana growers, processors, secure transport and safety compliance with a special use permit. 

There have been no special use permits submitted to the city for operations permitted by ordinance 1395.

“Beyond the citizens who just don’t want any marijuana in the city, there are concerns about the location in relation to neighborhoods, there is concern about the number, there is concern about the process choosing who would be able to sell in the city,” East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows said. “We’ve taken care of all the other elements in marijuana law that was passed in January. We still have to deal with provisioning centers, and we’re taking our time. We’ve got sort of a target for June, but we are not wedded to that.”

Throughout the process of drafting the ordinance, anyone can recommend amendments to City Council. 

The East Lansing Planning Commission must hold a minimum of two public hearings for zoning ordinances. The East Lansing Downtown Development Authority has also suggested amendments to the ordinance. 

“They (planning commission) can make recommendations for the ordinance, the DDA can recommend amendments, anyone in town can recommend amendments to an ordinance. We consider all that, and we can craft our own amendments,” Meadows said. “The  Downtown Development Authority has recommended against having it in the B-3 district. The B-3 is basically Evergreen to Collingwood. That’s the central downtown area.” 

Meadows said generally, fewer residents are against any marijuana operations in the city. 

“I haven’t heard a lot of push back in regards to this. I just should mention that we never had the intention to put them in neighborhoods or permit them in neighborhoods, it was always business zoned,” Meadows said. “We do get emails from the anti-marijuana organizations that are out indicating that younger people would have access to it that wouldn’t normally have access to it. I think that’s probably not accurate. I think if someone wants to find some marijuana in town, whether it’s legal or illegal, they’re going to find it, and there’s enough of a supply that that could be done. I would rather it be regulated.”

East Lansing Planning and Zoning Administer Dave Haywood said, ordinance 1395 addressed four license types: growers, processors, secure transport and safety compliance. 

“It did not address provisioning centers, the council kind of wisely figured that would be more contentious and difficult of an issue to address, certainly from public comment,” Dave Haywood said. “They split that out and that became ordinance 1416.” 

The East Lansing Planning Commission is responsible for master plan development throughout the city, including zoning, site plans, subdivisions and special use permits. 

“With the Planning Commission's recommendations and public input, they decided to slow the process down and go with 1416A, which is an alternate version of 1416 and it addressed provisioning centers by overlay district,” Haywood said. “Instead of following specific zoning district boundaries, an overlay district can be any geographical boundaries you define.”  

An overlay district lays on top of a city zoning map and defines boundaries for a specific district, in this case, the area of East Lansing that would permit provisioning centers. 

“The Planning Commission's position is it should be treated just like any other business. There are some basic requirements in the draft ordinance language to have some basic protections against things like odor control, and some other safety concerns with the site,” Haywood said. “Their view is, through the state licensing, is going to address most of the issues that may be perceived to come with a provisioning center.” 

The Michigan Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act allows cities to either “opt in or out,” which means cities must create their own local marijuana ordinance to abide by current state law. This policy also requires all marijuana facilities to apply for state licensing.  

“If we passed an ordinance that would allow for provisioning centers, the state licensing process is a two step process. You go to them first, and they are pre qualified so you have a criminal background check and a financial background check. The process at that stage is irrespective to location,” Haywood said. “The second phase of the process with the state is them relative to the location, now you would have to disclose where you’re doing this”  

Provisioning centers would have to apply for a special use permit if ordnance 1416A or 1416 is passed by City Council. 

“It’ll be our version how we do this, and it will be unique in terms of other communities … I don’t think there’s another community in the state that has looked at commercial overlay zones for these (provisioning centers),” Meadows said. “For me, it is a lot simpler a process in terms of identifying those geographic locations within the community that it would be appropriate in.”  

Meadows noted he did not want East Lansing’s process to be as complicated as Lansing’s current 2017 marijuana ordinance, which requires an expansive city review of each potential facility. 

“We also could set appearance standards within that area that wouldn’t necessarily apply to other zones. No neon sign limitations in terms of size that might be different than another type of business. It allows us to look at this in a unique way because this is a unique activity,” Meadows said. “I’m supportive of it, but I don’t know if it will get there because it takes three votes on City Council, and I don’t know if those votes are there.” 

Meadows said he is aware of the increasing likelihood that marijuana may be legalized recreationally in Michigan, and he wants East Lansing’s ordinances to reflect this. 

“We want it to be right because I think everybody recognizes that at some point, this year probably, voters are going to have a chance to decide if recreational marijuana is going to be OK in Michigan, the polling seems to indicate that is going to pass,” Meadows said. “We want to make sure that the system that we created deals with both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana in the community.”

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