Council Reverses Previous Decision on Medical Marijuana Sales

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Thursday, November 8, 2018, 8:24 am
Jessy Gregg

Above: Bloom Dispensary, in Ann Arbor

In a dramatic reversal of last week’s failed 3-2 vote on Ordinance 1416a, aimed at regulating the sale of medical marijuana in East Lansing, a new version of 1416a unanimously passed last night.

This came after Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann’s move to formally “reconsider” the matter.

Altmann explained that, when “the smoke had cleared” after the last meeting, he realized that after all of the revisions and amendments, Council had “come actually very close in our sausage-making to recreating the ordinance that staff recommended when we asked for a recommendation about where we should go, if we wanted to go in the direction of opting-in” to marijuana sales.

Council began formal consideration of this ordinance about a year ago. Last night, Altmann presented a “compromise” to the Council, returning to the staff-recommended system of restricting the location of marijuana sales by using “overlay districts,” essentially zoning districts on top of other zoning districts.

With the restriction that a medical marijuana provisioning center cannot be within one thousand feet of another, Altmann explained that the number of provisioning centers operating in town would essentially be very limited, since only a few could fit into each of the designated districts. The law also prohibits a provisioning center being located within one thousand feet of a liquor store.

The four zones where medical marijuana might now be sold – if a business makes it through layers of additional approval – are:

  • Properties bounded by the existing B2 (“Retail Sales Business”) district within the City limits that are south of Michigan Avenue and west of Brody Road.
  • Properties north of Abbey Road “as extended to U.S. 127,” west of Coolidge Road, east of U.S. 127, and south of the northern boundary line of the existing OIP (Office Industrial Park) District extended to 127.
  • Properties bounded by Park Lake Road, Haslett Road, and Merritt Road, near the new Costco.
  • Properties south of Grand River Avenue between Cedar Street and Hagadorn Road – the area known as the East Village and containing The Hub project, now under construction.

Altmann did make one very significant amendment to the new version of 1416a that he presented to Council, proposing to strike the section that created a prohibition against selling marijuana products that could be smoked or inhaled.

After last week’s vote, Council Member Aaron Stephens posted on Facebook an explanation for his “no” vote, saying that he opposed the restriction on inhaled products. “I want to make clear I did not vote ‘no’ on opting in for medical marijuana. I voted ‘no’ on opting in halfway.”

Last night, Council Member Shanna Draheim also expressed her disagreement with that restriction, saying that she did not feel comfortable telling a patient how they should be taking their medicine.

Council voted 5-0 to strike the prohibition on inhaled and smoked products. Various lawyers have warned that such a provision would quickly lead to lawsuits against the City.

At last night’s meeting, several citizens expressed their support for the sale of medical marijuana in East Lansing.

Jeff Hank, an East Lansing resident and the Executive Director of MILegalize, criticized the generally restrictive nature of the ordinance, saying that East Lansing would see a greater return from the state taxes on marijuana if they allowed more dispensaries to operate in town.

He also criticized the portion of the plan which mandates giving 1% or $5,000 (whichever is greater) of profit to a local non-profit, saying that the marijuana industry is already heavily taxed and that dispensaries are “not just a cash-register” for other people.

Tim Meehan also spoke in favor of having local dispensaries, sharing the story of his neighbor, who is in the hospital waiting for his leg to be amputated due to complications from diabetes.

“He wanted me to tell you that medical cannabis saved his life,” Meehan explained. He described how his neighbor was experiencing chronic pain due to previous surgery and was taking up to 20 opioid tablets a day to manage the pain, while experiencing secondary symptoms such as constipation and insomnia due to addiction to the opioid painkillers.

Meehan said that after switching to cannabis for pain management, his neighbor was able to withdraw from the opioids and experience a much fuller life.” But “he is not comfortable driving into parts of Lansing to buy his medicine,” Meehan said, reading from a prepared statement.

Mayor Mark Meadows responded that, “as a senior, I think your idea of what seniors are requiring at this point in time is wrong. This is a very active group of seniors in this nation today, not just in East Lansing. The idea that I might have to go a half mile to get my medical marijuana, and that might be a bad thing, is really just not realistic.”

Meehan also took issue with the mandatory donations, which he said added to the stigmatization of marijuana.

Draheim responded that she often sees these sorts of “public good” payments in other development agreements, such as when an alternative energy company puts up wind turbines.

With some slight amendments and the significant one removing the ban on inhalable products, the ordinance passed unanimously.

Council Member Ruth Beier, who has generally not said much during recent discussions of this matter, spoke to say that she had been hearing from people who said they thought City leaders were picking and choosing who would benefit from having their properties zoned for provisioning centers.

She said the Council’s interest was in spreading out, around town, the places where marijuana could be sold, and in having only a small number of possible places.

Meadows essentially agreed in his comments, saying he saw this as a “pilot program” to be revisited in the future.

Companies will not be able to open provisioning centers in East Lansing without approval by the State of Michigan, following an intensive application process and without approval from City Council for a Special Use Permit.


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