Sunday, July 5, 2020

Medical marijuana provisioning center ordinance fails at City Council

October 31, 2018
The East Lansing City Council on Nov. 21, 2017 at the 54B District Court.
The East Lansing City Council on Nov. 21, 2017 at the 54B District Court. —
Photo by Carly Geraci | The State News

A boring city council meeting? Not on East Lansing’s watch.

Despite a sparse agenda, the Oct. 30 meeting filled more than three hours with discussion on medical marijuana, municipal leasing practices and the acts of domestic terrorism that plagued the nation last week.

By the end of the meeting, the council failed to pass a medical marijuana provisioning center ordinance, but not before the council made or proposed 11 changes to the ordnance. 

Community members, industry representatives and lobbyists descended upon the council meeting to express their conditional support of the ordinance. Their stipulations later appeared during the council's own decision making process.

“As we’re making our decisions and venturing this way, I just hope we keep in mind evidence and look at what other cities and other areas are doing successfully and what’s working for them,” said Dana Watson, a community member who works with elderly medical marijuana users.

A couple of proposed limitations throughout the night were to only allow the sale of smokeless marijuana products and a requirement that provisioning centers donate $5,000 to charity annually.

There were also concerns on how the provisioning centers would be zoned, with some expressing that the council was too restrictive in mapping out where centers would be allowed. More than one resident during the public hearing accused the council of picking “winners and losers.”

Zoning laws would prohibit these centers from opening up in certain areas of East Lansing, similarly to how fast food restaurants are zoned so as to not overcrowd the city with one business type.

Council Member Shanna Draheim spoke on how she thought zoning restrictions would benefit the city.

“I don’t want to see a huge number of dispensaries all over our city any more than I want to see a huge number or a huge concentration of almost any business type,” Draheim said. “I am very much in favor of a diversity of business offerings throughout our city, regardless of industry.”

One failed motion supported by Draheim and Council Member Aaron Stephens aimed to scrap the caveat that only allowed businesses to sell smokeless medical marijuana products. This was also advocated for by members of the audience who had come up to speak earlier in the meeting.

Both council members felt the method of ingesting medical marijuana should be a decision between a patient and doctor.

“If you view this as a medicine, we are restricting a certain type of medicine, and I don’t think that’s a business that we need to get into,” Stephens said.

Meadows said smokeless alternatives can be just as useful as any method of using medical cannabis. He felt East Lansing could set a precedent for smokeless medical marijuana provisioning centers.

Other issues tackled at the meeting included an ordinance to prohibit landlords from demanding more than one-and-a-half months' rent in advance. This ordinance was the brainchild of Stephens and attracted the attention of rental property owners across the city.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, several property owners accused the council of over-regulating a process that already has state laws governing it.

At one point, Stephens' former landlord brought out semi-redacted documents outlining his own rental agreement from when he was a student. The landlord said Stephens' experience renting property in East Lansing was at odds with the proposed ordinance.

This bit of drama escalated when council members reproached the landlord for using Stephen’s personal documents in a public forum — especially, Stephens added, as they had not been adequately redacted.

“Showing up with my roommates' addresses ... their parents' names, whether or not they had the ability to pay that rent on a monthly basis, their student ID numbers ... that’s not cool,” Stephens said. 

While Stephens successfully passed a motion to push back a vote on the ordinance to Dec. 4, rental property owners were still distressed.

“We don’t agree with a need for it; we don’t see where it’s appropriate," said Jeffrey Ray, a Lansing attorney and rental-property owner. "The state’s already regulated this for 39 years. Honestly, this is the first time I’ve heard a complaint about the rent collection. We’re glad it’s deferred."

The meeting also established the week of Oct. 29 as “a week of grieving”  in remembrance of those killed in a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. All American flags in the city will fly at half-mast.

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