At a four-hour long meeting of the East Lansing City Council Tuesday, three out of six applicants for medical marijuana dispensaries received city approval while the council reduced restrictions on where dispensaries can set up shop.
Michigan State Interim President Satish Udpa appeared at the meeting to voice opposition to the dispensaries.
Udpa said MSU is subject to federal law and increased access to marijuana could pose problems for students, particularly international students who "often do not grasp the differences between state and federal law" and can face "serious immigration consequences" if caught with marijuana.
"At a time when campuses including MSU are working very hard to discourage students from drinking and drug use, location of any dispensary for any purpose near campus or student housing works against these efforts," Udpa said.
The city gave the green light to three companies to continue on in the dispensary licensing process: JBC, LLC; RJB Enterprises, LLC; and Green Peak Industries, LLC.
JBC requested to demolish the main building at 1415 Michigan Ave. — an abandoned Pontiac dealership storefront across from Frandor Shopping Center — and remodel an existing structure to open a dispensary near the Brody Neighborhood.
The applicant's pre-qualification approval is pending from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, or LARA, the state department that licenses dispensaries. The current site plan doesn’t have renderings of a finished building or anything besides sketched elevations.
RJB Enterprises received city permission to open a dispensary at 1950 Merritt Road for a dispensary. The company also has its pre-qualification status pending with LARA.
Green Peak Industries was approved for the property at 3318–3332 West Road. The company plans to build on the edge of Coolidge Road. The owners have already received pre-qualification status from the state.
A race to the finish line
The three approved companies may have their dispensaries spread throughout the city, but the council will take more time to resolve the competition to open one on East Grand River Avenue.
Mayor Mark Meadows deferred each applicant requesting space on Grand River Avenue to a special meeting on April 23, when a final determination will be made.
ABCD Properties, LLC plans to open a liquor store with a recently acquired state license at 1108 E. Grand River Ave., where Oade’s Big Ten Party Store previously operated. They are also requesting a medical marijuana dispensary permit for the same location.
One concern mentioned in the city's staff report is parking space availability, as only four parking spaces are available at the site. The developers plan to acquire additional parking spaces at 927 E. Grand River Ave., across the street, to satisfy a requirement to have six parking spaces.
EL Grand, Inc. is requesting 1054 E. Grand River Ave., currently occupied by a Valvoline Instant Oil Change store. The site includes 13 parking spaces.
DNVK 1, LLC is requesting 1100 E. Grand River Ave., currently owned by Subway. The company's site plan includes nine parking spaces and the owners received pre-qualification status from LARA.
One requirement for city permission is that either $5,000 or 1 percent of generated revenue be donated to a charity organization. DNVK has already signed an agreement donating $40,000 annually to Jewish Spartans of East Lansing.
CA-East Lansing, Inc. is requesting 1234 E. Grand River Ave.
Separation distances and why they matter
In November, the council passed requirements to separate dispensaries by 1,000 feet from each other and liquor stores.
The problem: The city recently sold an old public works property with the intent of allowing developers to transform the site into a dispensary, but the property is within 1,000 feet of the applicant at 1950 Merritt Road.
In response, the council introduced an ordinance to exempt the distance requirement when dispensaries are in different zoning districts. The legislation — passed in a modified form in Tuesday's meeting — affected the recently sold property, but no others.
The Downtown Development Authority recommended approval of the ordinance as it was introduced, but the East Lansing Planning Commission called for an overhaul last month. Planning commission recommendations applied distance requirements across the board and eliminated the separation requirement from liquor stores.
The city adopted many of the planning commission's recommendations, except for keeping the 1,000-foot distance between dispensaries in the Downtown Development Authority district.
The implication for dispensary applicants is while only one dispensary can open downtown, they are not barred from competing against ABCD Properties. The competition previously accused ABCD Properties of applying for a liquor store license for the sole purpose of disqualifying all other applicants from the area.
Councilmembers were caught between wanting to limit the densities of dispensaries in the city and loosening restrictions on industry development. Meadows said the 1,000-foot distance requirement still made sense on East Grand River Avenue because of the congestion and density surrounding it.
Councilmember Shanna Draheim voted against the changes on the basis of applying regulations consistently.
“I don’t see a particular uniqueness with the Grand River district,” she said. “It’s a retail hub.”
Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann agreed with Meadows that the density and traffic distinguish downtown properties.
“I am not ready to turn Grand River into the green mile just yet,” he said.