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Wednesday, June 1,2011

Cannabis sausage-making

Council members buck Carol Wood on her plan to confine new medical marijuana dispensaries to industrial areas.

by Andy Balaskovitz

Momentum is growing on the Lansing City Council not to
restrict new medical marijuana dispensaries to industrial zones, as was
proposed by Councilwoman Carol Wood.


A’Lynne Robinson and Tina Houghton said they don’t agree
with a provision in the draft ordinance that would limit new businesses
to industrially zoned properties. They are two of the three members of
the Public Safety Committee, which is crafting the ordinance. Wood
chairs the committee.


“I want to make (dispensaries) less ‘demonish,’” Houghton
said. “It’s (for) medical purposes. If we put them in corners where we
don’t want to see them, there’s the perception that it’s still wrong.”


“I honestly don’t want them relegated out in one area,” Robinson said.


Houghton, who represents the 2nd Ward, and Robinson, who
represents the 3rd and is also Council president, spoke out at last
Thursday’s committee meeting, catching Wood off guard. The committee
will resume debating the ordinance at 4 p.m. Thursday.


Meanwhile, Wood backed down on forcing most existing
dispensaries to move into industrial areas. The committee accepted her
proposal that existing dispensaries be allowed to operate where they
are. Of Lansing’s 41 dispensaries, 37 are in non-industrial areas.


But she stuck to her guns that new ones should only open
in industrial areas, saying that is the wish of neighborhood
associations. Wood, who is up for re-election, is closely tied to them.


Wood said limiting new businesses to industrially zoned
areas satisfies concerns expressed by neighborhood groups that they’re
becoming too clustered in high-traffic areas — like Michigan Avenue on
the east side. Allowing new businesses in commercially zoned areas
“opens up a whole other cadre of areas out there,” Wood said. Wood
thought the industrially zoned requirement was a settled issue with the
committee.


“I thought that’s where we started this conversation before we went through everything else,” Wood said.


But Robinson wasn’t on the same page.


“I’ve always said H and I (which refers to light and heavy
industrial) is an issue for me. That’s not a settled issue for me,”
Robinson said. “I don’t know how we get to further discussion that if
not all commercial (is allowed), is there other zoning that is more
expansive than H and I?”


And one neighborhood group president said she, too, is against limiting new businesses to industrially zoned areas.


Nancy Mahlow, president of the Eastside Neighborhood
Organization, said her group’s biggest concern is clustering. On
Thursday, the committee agreed to a 500-foot distance requirement
between each dispensary. Mahlow said she’d like to see that at 1,000
feet. But even so, allowing only two zones for businesses opens the door
for clustering, Mahlow said.


“We want to see mixed use within our area,” she said. “As far as H and I, I disagree with that. I don’t want to push them out.” 


Mahlow also would rather see dispensaries “spread out”
because it makes for easier access for patients. “Spread them
(dispensaries) out through the city. If you’re going to make them
accessible to the needs of the patients then they should be dispensed
evenly through the city, not clustered in one area.”


The committee also exempted existing dispensaries from the
500-foot distance requirement. Several dispensaries on Michigan Avenue
operate within 500 feet of each other.


The committee meeting was about to wrap up as Houghton and
Robinson expressed their zoning concerns. Wood essentially tabled the
issue. 


Robinson and Houghton’s views are more in line with the
administration. Mayor Virg Bernero released a draft ordinance two weeks
ago that reflects his vision of commercial medical marijuana activity in
the city. In it, dispensaries would be allowed to operate anywhere
except residentially zoned areas and properties zoned for parking.
Dispensaries would have to be 500 feet away from each other and 1,000
feet from schools, playgrounds and churches. Those not in compliance
would have up to a year comply with the zoning code.


Robinson said she hopes to incorporate aspects of his proposal into the draft being discussed in committee.


Some issues yet to be worked out include being able to
dispense and grow cannabis in the same building and what happens to
dispensaries that are now within 1,000 feet of a school or church. The
draft before the committee separates “dispensaries” and “cultivation
businesses,” and the City Attorney’s Office is in the process of finding
out what dispensaries would violate the 1,000-foot rule.


Meanwhile, Wood said “we are up against the clock” on
finishing this ordinance, which she wants the full Council to vote on
before the city’s moratorium on new businesses expires July 1.

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