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Wednesday, June 22,2011

Dispensary opposition

Last-minute opposition to Lansing’s proposed dispensary regulations is led by a major PR firm with an employee that is recusing himself from an advisory board vote on the ordinance

by Andy Balaskovitz

With less than a week to go until the Lansing City Council
votes on regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, opposition to the
proposed ordinance is getting a boost from the well known Lansing-based
public relations firm Truscott Rossman.


And one Truscott Rossman employee, Josh Hovey, who sits on
the city’s Planning Board — which will vote on a recommendation on the
ordinance — is recusing himself from voting Thursday because of his
involvement in lobbying against the proposed ordinance.


Truscott Rossman’s involvement represents a serious,
late-inning push by those against the ordinance to change proposed
regulations that dispensary owners largely agree on or want loosened. 


According to Hovey, Truscott Rossman is representing “a coalition of business owners,” led by Neogen Corp. CEO Jim Herbert.


The coalition is against allowing new dispensaries in a
commercially zoned district of the city that includes much of the
Michigan Avenue corridor between the Capitol and U.S. 127, Grand River
Avenue through Old Town and Saginaw Street.


Last week at a City Council Public Safety Committee
meeting, neighborhood groups voiced their opposition to the proposed
ordinance.


Joan Nelson, director of the Allen
Neighborhood Center, distributed information about an online petition
Tuesday on behalf of the neighborhood-group led Coalition for a Closer
Look at the Medical Marihuana Dispensary Ordinance. The petition calls
for the number of dispensaries to 10, not allowing any new ones on
Michigan Avenue, adding “community centers, hospitals and
hospital-affiliated medical services, parks, pools, or neighborhood
centers” to the list of places that dispensaries have to be separated
from by at least 1,000 feet, more stringent background checks on
applicants, no consumption onsite and more involved tracking of where
marijuana comes from.


However, Nelson said last week that her coalition would
grandfather existing businesses and get down to 10 through attrition.
Right now, 41 operate in Lansing.


Truscott Rossman has offices in Grand Rapids and Lansing.
Its clients include Sparrow Hospital, Pharmaceutical Research and
Manufacturers of America and the Boji Group. Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO
of the firm, said at the City Council’s Monday meeting that they
represent numerous businesses and organizations in the 1st Ward,
including the Lansing Lugnuts, the Greater Lansing Convention and
Visitor’s Bureau, Gone Wired Café, Emil’s, Prima Civitas and developers
Scott and Pat Gillespie.


“We don’t oppose marijuana stores. We oppose the
proliferation of marijuana stores in our city,” she said during a public
hearing. “We’ve got 48 (dispensaries) already, do we really need
another one?”


Hovey said the coalition of business owners wants to see
the moratorium on new dispensaries extended by 90 days “to make sure the
Council gets it right this time. The delay in action and letting so
many businesses get in before dealing with this issue has been
counterproductive.”


But it looks like a moratorium extension
has neither Council support or, if it did, enough time to be enacted
before the moratorium sunsets on July 1.


At-Large City Councilwoman Carol Wood said Tuesday that
she supports extending the moratorium but to try to do so is a “moot
point.”


She said the Council would have had to introduce it at
Monday’s meeting in order for the city to provide enough public notice
and so it could be up for a vote at the Council’s next meeting on
Monday. City Clerk Chris Swope said the Council would essentially have
to call two special meetings in order to legally attempt to vote on
extending the moratorium before it expires July 1.


Wood, who said she is against the
proposed ordinance because it allows businesses to operate in F-1
commercial districts, said she “didn’t think the votes were there” at
Monday’s meeting to vote on introducing an extended moratorium.


Hovey said even though he won’t be voting on any
recommendations at the Planning Board meeting Thursday, he will be part
of the discussion.


As a “westside neighborhood” resident who has lived in Lansing for six years, Hovey said he has a “vested interest in the city.”


“I personally don’t want to see Lansing called Lansterdam,
knowing the history of Michigan Avenue and what it used to be,” he
said, referring to pornography stores. “I’m not suggesting that’s where
the city will go, but there has to be some middle ground.”

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