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Wednesday, February 23,2011

A tale of two ordinances

East Lansing is on the home stretch of regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, while Lansing is struggling to do so. Why?

by Andy Balaskovitz
More than two months into Lansing’s six-month moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries, City Attorney Brig Smith says he is trying to focus on drafting an ordinance to regulate those businesses.

But he says it isn’t easy when Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III says they’re illegal and Eaton County Prosecutor Jeff Sauter says they are legal.


“Lansing has the distinction of being in both Ingham and Eaton counties,” Smith said, adding that he was part of a medical marijuana panel discussion with Dunnings and Sauter hosted by the Michigan Municipal League on Feb. 10. He is crafting language for an ordinance that would license dispensaries. “We find ourselves (Lansing) squarely in the middle (of their opinions).”


Dunnings and Sauter did not return calls for comment.


However, Smith added that he interprets the Medical Marihuana Act the same way Sauter interprets it. They both say dispensaries are legal because “medical use” as defined in the act allows for “transfers” between qualified caregivers and their five patients.


Smith said Dunnings’ office uses the case against Fredrick “Wayne” Dagit as a “test case” for the legality of dispensaries. Dagit is on trial for allegedly possessing more than 200 pounds of marijuana for the Green Leaf Smokers Club in Williamstown Township, which is defunct.


But Smith disagrees with Dunnings.


“The Dagit case is to the point of absurdity. Obviously, the statute was not intended to have Waco (Texas) with marijuana in Williamstown Township,” Smith said. “Instead of guns and the ATF, it’s pot and the DEA. Instead of Branch Davidians, it’s Branch Dagitians.”


Smith called the case against Dagit “an easy one” and the “precedence” it might set neglects the intricacies of each of the 32 dispensaries open and operating in Lansing.


“The real question is about forgetting the extremes of easy cases. On one hand, you have a single caregiver with five patients. On the other hand, you have Waco with marijuana in Williamstown Township,” Smith said. “It’s about figuring out the shades of gray when one caregiver wants to associate with another caregiver in light of what the act says and what federal law clearly and plainly says.”


City Council President A’Lynne Robinson said writing an ordinance around Dunnings’ belief is “problematic.” Robinson said navigating that is what is stalling Lansing’s regulatory ordinance.


“It’s a bit frustrating in the time it’s taking, but it certainly makes perfect sense,” Robinson said of Smith’s efforts.


East Lansing has also taken its time to deal with dispensaries. Its six-month moratorium was extended another 90 days till May 15. But the City Council is making progress on writing a regulatory ordinance. At a Feb. 15 meeting, it decided to allow dispensaries only in commercial businesses outside of downtown and to ban them in homes. The Council will revisit that proposed ordinance at its March 15 meeting.


As it’s drafted, dispensaries could only be in B-4 commercial zones, which are office properties outside of the downtown. While some supporters of the proposed ordinance voiced concerns with that caveat on Feb. 15, East Lansing Mayor Vic Loomis said the majority of feedback from neighborhood groups and the Downtown Development Authority didn’t want them downtown. Loomis also said B-4 zoning is the “largest footprint” in all commercial zones (covering the most space) and also would afford patients more privacy by being away from downtown.


“In the grand scheme of things, we heard very clearly not to put dispensaries in neighborhoods. We heard don’t put them in the downtown,” Loomis said.


East Lansing Assistant City Attorney Tom Yeadon said he met “early on with a number of prosecuting agencies in the area” about how to regulate dispensaries, but they didn’t work too closely after that. He says the verdict is still out on whether Dunnings’ interpretation of the law is correct. One group says because dispensaries are not spelled out in the act that they are illegal, another group says the opposite, Yeadon said.


“The act is silent. There was somewhat of a consensus that the act didn’t allow for dispensaries because it doesn’t mention them. On the other hand, it doesn’t prohibit them. It doesn’t say multiple caregivers can’t operate out of a single structure.”

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