Cannabis. Grass. Marijuana. Ganja. Weed. Pot.
That last descriptor, legitimized by 63 percent of Michigan voters in 2008 and in 13 other states since 1996, has changed the game. Here in the greater Lansing region, perhaps most prominent is the number of businesses that engage in the sale, trade and education of it.
Also prominent are local officials who stand by scratching their heads, moratoriums in place, waiting for the first community to make the leap into regulation despite a supposedly confusing state law.
In the end, though, this law was written for ill citizens who benefit from using cannabis either by inhaling, vaporizing, eating or rubbing it into their skin. It doesn’t go far beyond defining patients and caregivers and the amounts of cannabis they can possess and grow — up to 2.5 ounces of usable product per patient and up to 12 plants per patient, with caregivers allowed up to five patients.
This guide is meant to be a resource for those who legally use medical marijuana and to offer an update on what’s going on in the greater Lansing region, an area establishing itself as a hub for medical marijuana in Michigan.
A look about town
The most common way communities in the area are dealing with the state medical marijuana law, particularly new businesses, is by issuing moratoriums on their existence at least for a few months. However, some are going the zoning ordinance route, while others wait to see who takes the lead.
City Manager Gregg Guetschow said any authorized patients and caregivers who can grow marijuana legally under the state statute will face no problems in Charlotte. However, existing ordinances prohibit any businesses that are illegal under federal law — for example, dispensaries and co-operatives. Guetschow issued an administrative order in June saying so and hasn’t received any inquiries from potential businesses since the law passed.
The Township set a six-month moratorium Sept. 21 on any businesses related to medical marijuana, Township Supervisor Stewart Goodrich said. “We needed to take a much more serious look. Heaven forbid (state) legislators would want to do anything about it,” he said.
Delta Township The Delta Township Board extended a moratorium on Sept. 7 for six more months on any businesses related to medical marijuana, Township Manager Richard Watkins said. There have been three or four inquiries regarding Lansing’s city limits in relation to the township, but Watkins said he is not aware of any businesses in the township.
A six-month moratorium took effect Sept. 14 on sales or dispensing of medical marijuana within the city, which includes retail stores, residences or any facility where cannabis is purchased. The penalty is a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500 or a maximum 90 days in jail.
A scheduled public hearing Monday will address proposed amendments to the township’s home occupation ordinance that would limit one caregiver per dwelling and forbid operations within 1,000 feet of a church, school, daycare or drug rehabilitation center. Caregivers would also need a permit from the township and would be subject to inspection by the Fire Department.
Nothing has been adopted or approved in Dimondale yet, but Village Manager Denise Parisian imagines a moratorium will be placed on “certain activities” as an ordinance is worked out. “We understand medical use is a statutory right,” she said. “We are not looking at anything that will compromise that right.”
East Lansing is considering three different ordinances that regulate homebased businesses (caregivers), central businesses (dispensaries) and one that takes a “Livonia approach” that restricts all cannabis growing in light of federal law. “I don’t think many favor that (last) approach,” City Manager Ted Staton said. A public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 19 to discuss the approaches, Staton said.
A moratorium set in May is in place until the end of November on any commercial businesses relating to medical marijuana. Mayor Kalmin Smith said local officials “really don’t know what to,” citing the new law's vagueness. Smith said the administration and City Council are looking at a “zoning approach,” but it is still early to tell. “Whatever restrictions we have, if they’re significantly different from our neighbors, that will cause confusion,” he said.
The City Council passed an ordinance that took effect Sept. 27 that regulates home-based caregivers who conduct business with patients inside their homes. Only one caregiver can operate out of a house if cannabis is sold there, which can’t be within 1,000 feet of any public or private schools, playgrounds, churches or substance abuse rehabilitation centers. No advertising can be placed outside, and any energy use and heat generation that could pose a fire hazard has to be approved by the fire marshal and the Building Safety Office. This ordinance does not address dispensaries or cooperatives.
A moratorium is in place until May 1, 2011, restricting permits for sales, growing facilities, clubs or any business activities that result in medical marijuana sales.
Township Zoning Administrator Susan Aten said home occupation regulations similar to Lansing’s are being considered “very seriously.”
City Administrator Marty Colburn said no formal actions have been taken in Mason and that all medical marijuana regulations are in the “discussion phase.” Colburn said he is unaware of any businesses coming up in the city and that outside of the 2008 election, he has heard of no feedback from the public.
Township Supervisor Susan McGillicuddy wants to see some zoning restrictions or a moratorium in place for anyone growing medical marijuana in the township. “I have brought it up twice to the township board, both times they chose not to act or do anything.” Board meeting minutes show that some members are concerned about the legality of such limitations; meanwhile Meridian Township remains free of any restrictions. “I don’t think that’s the right decision to make,” she said.
At a Sept. 27 meeting, the Williamston City Council placed a six-month moratorium on land use permits for the sale or dispensation of medical marijuana in the city.
A six-month moratorium on medical marijuana businesses took effect Sept. 7 so the township can address a law that is “proven to be rather vague,” Supervisor Mickey Martin said. The Green Leaf Smokers Club, which made headlines in late May after its owner Fredrick “Wayne” Dagit allegedly stored 74 pounds of cannabis there, is located here. Dagit is facing drug-related charges.
Catching up with the MDCH
It started out in April 2009 as a three-person staff to administer medical marijuana applications. The Michigan Department of Community Health’s cannabis division has grown to six fulltime and nine temporary workers, with three more full-timers starting over the next few months. That is on top of two new printers purchased about four months ago that can each print up to 400 cards in one day.
Still, the department struggles with a three-month backlog from the time it takes to approve an application to the time a physical card lands in mailboxes. As of Sept. 24, the Department issued 32,859 applications since April 9, 2009, the day the law took effect.
Celeste Clarkson, who manages the program, said the process is not as simple as going to the mailroom, browsing through an application and printing off a card. From the mailroom, applications are taken to the cash processing office and then sent to the registry program where they are sorted and reviewed for program eligibility and background checks. Then comes the tedious process of data entry.
“That is where the backlog starts,” Clarkson said. The department is still processing applications from July, which is relatively straightforward once data entry is finished and patient information is sent to the printers.
The new hires and printers are geared toward efficiency, but there is still more to be done: The mailroom, cash processing office and the registry program are all in different buildings in Lansing, Clarkson said.