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Wednesday, December 1,2010

Just say no

The mayor calls a moratorium on new medical marijuana businesses ‘absolute nonsense’ and ‘Nixonian.’ Meanwhile, businesses scramble to get grandfathered in

by Andy Balaskovitz
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero is in a fiery mood against a proposed ordinance that could place a moratorium on medical marijuana businesses for up to a year.

“They’re trying to say no to commercial dispensaries,” Bernero said.


“It’s absolute nonsense and it’s unnecessary. It’s an attempt to thwart the will of the voters,” Bernero added, speaking in an interview.


The proposed ordinance would ban any new medical marijuana establishments for up to a year while the City Council and the city attorney draft an ordinance that includes licensing through the city clerk’s office. A medical marijuana establishment is defined as “any nonresidential land use involving the growth, distribution, storage, or use” of marijuana.


The City Council voted 6-2 to schedule a public hearing followed by a likely vote on Dec. 6. City Council Vice President Kathie Dunbar and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko opposed.


“This is the old Nixonian, silent-majority approach,” Bernero said of the moratorium. “They’re trying to stall it, delay it, stop it, ban it.”


Bernero criticized a “faction of City Council that just wants to turn back the clock” on medical marijuana in Lansing, specifically naming At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood because she is chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee, which has been working on medical marijuana regulation.


He said Wood had nine months to come up with an ordinance regulating the businesses rather than blocking them.


“She took nine months to write a moratorium?” Bernero asked. “It’s just say no — I could have done that in a day.”


If “clustering” — businesses in close proximity — was the problem, the Council should look at that and regulate it, not ban it, he said. Michigan Avenue is often cited as an example of clustering. Since the law toook effect last year, 12 medical marijuana-related businesses, mostly clinics and dispensaries, have opened there.


“We should be proactive and regulate and license,” Bernero said. “I don’t believe they should all be clustered together, but let’s regulate it to accommodate it. Not ban it.”


He also cautioned about the potential spillover of businesses into neighborhoods because commercial areas would be blocked off from dispensing it.


“They’re trying to push medical marijuana out of the storefronts. In other words, push it back into the shadows,” he said. “Personally, I’d like to see it on ‘Main Street’ than hidden in our back alleys.”


Wood maintains that the purpose of the moratorium is to keep a bunch of “unregulated” businesses from popping up.


To Bernero’s charge that the moratorium is nonsense, Wood said: “I guess that’s his idea of regionalism,” adding that she has been asked by “regional study groups” to follow their lead with a moratorium. Other mid- Michigan communities, including East Lansing, have declared moratoriums while they decide how to regulate dispensaries.


The proposed ordinance lists 17 businesses with their addresses that would be allowed to operate despite a moratorium. City Attorney Brig Smith said any other businesses that start up or who have not approached his office by Dec. 6 to be included could be shut down by the city.


Smith crafted the moratorium language after struggling for months with language that identifies dispensary-type businesses.


Robin Schneider, owner of Capitol City Compassion Club, 2010 E. Michigan Ave., takes issue with language in the ordinance that would require people who simply grow in a nonresidential area to register with the city. Schneider said she knows at least four people who grow for their patients in a nonresidential zone.


“To me, the real issue is that the ordinance says ‘growth,’” she said. “People do not feel comfortable having their name written in an ordinance to get grandfathered in.”


Smith said this is something “I’d want to think about more.” He added that he expects to hear from everybody who wants to be protected from the moratorium by Monday.


Meanwhile, business owners are scrambling to get their operations up before the moratorium kicks in.


Lee opened Mary Jane’s Compassion Club in south Lansing on Friday once word of a moratorium got around. He did not want to give his last name.


“We’re definitely doing the scramble,” Lee said on being grandfathered in.


Lee is concerned that the moratorium could take too long and that local officials forget about the majority of Michiganders who approved the law.


“I hope they don’t curtail it too much,” he said.


Evolve Medical Marijuana Services, 2312 E. Michigan Ave., scarcely had paint on its walls and an open sign Tuesday when owner James Lerma found out a moratorium is possible. Though Evolve got rolling before word of the moratorium got out, Lerma said he’d be speeding things up to get to the city attorney’s office “We opened up before I wanted to,” Lerma said. “I saw it on the news (the moratorium) and thought, ‘My God, I had no idea.”


Corey Tripp, a “budtender” at Turtle’s across the street from Evolve, is in the process of opening a new location with business partners. Would he be scrambling to open up shop before Dec. 6?


“Most definitely,” he said. “We’ll see if it comes to fruition. We have two or three days to figure out what’s going on.”

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