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Wednesday, June 29,2011

Kicked out

The Lansing City Council has legislated medical marijuana dispensaries off of Michigan Avenue

by Andy Balaskovitz

Michigan Avenue will be off limits to medical marijuana dispensaries in a year, including the 11 that operate there now.


That’s because of buffering requirements
adopted in the city’s new medical marijuana ordinance that requires them
to be 1,000 feet from each other, schools, playgrounds, churches,
licensed child care facilities and substance abuse treatment centers. A
map from the city’s Planning Department shows no locations on Michigan
Avenue that would permit a dispensary. The 11 businesses on that stretch
would only be grandfathered until July 1, 2012.


At least one dispensary owner is taking it as an eviction notice.


“You can evict me in 30 days or you can
evict me in a year. … I’m being told I have a stranded investment,” Ryan
Basore, co-owner of Capital City Caregivers at 2208 E. Michigan Ave.,
told the Council Monday night. He spoke before the Council adopted the
ordinance after midnight Tuesday.


The ordinance passed 5-3. Kathie Dunbar,
Tina Houghton, Derrick Quinney, Eric Hewitt and Jessica Yorko voted for
it. Carol Wood, A’Lynne Robinson and Brian Jeffries voted against it.


Even though the buffering requirements
have been part of various dispensary draft ordinances, a grandfather
clause that allowed non-compliant businesses to stay open until
ownership changed was amended shortly before the Council’s vote to
restrict grandfathering to one year.


“Yeah, thanks for the year. What’s the difference if it’s six months? Thirty days?” Basore said in an interview Tuesday.


Brant Johnson, who’s on the board of the
Greater Lansing Medical Marijuana Business Association, told Council:
“I’m saddened that so many organizations and another business
organization wishes to limit and control another business association,”
referring to neighborhood groups and a small business coalition. Johnson
said there’s “no evidence” that increases in crime and loitering and
smoking onsite have occurred as a result of dispensaries. “They say they
want to bring back dignity to our community. How? By kicking people
out? It doesn’t make sense, and it’s shameless.”


Indeed, dispensary owners are already
considering a suit. Attorney Matt Newburg, who specializes in medical
marijuana law, said Tuesday “a few” called him "inquiring about filing
lawsuits against the city."


City Attorney Brig Smith told the city’s Planning Board last week:


“We can regulate, but we can’t regulate
out of business, or regulation that is so comprehensive that there is no
way anyone can comply with it. I’m not saying that’s the case here.
It’s a legal issue we have to be cognizant of.”


The Bernero administration, meanwhile, is
taking a wait-and-see approach to the new ordinance, saying it can be
revisited. “It doesn’t have to be the last word on the subject," Deputy
Chief of Staff Randy Hannan said Tuesday.


But Hannan also called the ordinance “a compromise that represents the will of the people."


"It isn’t perfect but it’s a far better approach than extending the moratorium again and again," he said.




Politics


The Council was working against time
Monday because the six-month-old moratorium on new dispensaries in
Lansing is set to expire Friday.


The Council started with a draft
ordinance Monday night that had struck language allowing businesses to
stay open until they changed hands.


At about 9:30 Monday night, the Council
went to work on the draft after resolving other business. Over two-plus
hours, 15 amendments were proposed — some of them twice — and six of
them made it into the adopted ordinance.


The first four additions passed
unanimously: They require certain product labeling information and a
copy of the property lease agreement (if necessary) to be part of the
application, ban onsite consumption and change “junior college” to
“community college” in the buffering restrictions.


The proposed ordinance limited
dispensaries to industrial areas and one classification of commercially
zoned areas. At-Large Councilman Derrick Quinney proposed allowing them
in every other zone in the city except residential, as Mayor Virg
Bernero had proposed in May as a way to spread them out more. That
motion failed 4-4, with Jeffries, Robinson, Wood and Hewitt voting
against.


Dunbar then proposed adding just one more
commercial zone to where businesses could operate, but that failed
along the same voting lines. After three motions failed to allow
grandfathering in perpetuity or limit to a year or until a lease is up,
Dunbar made another motion to add the commercial zone again, which
passed 5-3 with Wood, Jeffries and Hewitt against.


2nd Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton was
initially for grandfathering until they changed ownership. However, she
and Wood supported the one-year limit during Monday’s Public Safety
Committee meeting because “we heard so much from the neighborhoods.” The
committee revised the ordinance at the last minute after pressure from
neighborhood groups and a handful of business owners, including Jim
Herbert, the chairman and CEO of Neogen.


“I think there was a compromise. They wanted 30 days (grandfathering period),” Houghton said.


However, Robinson, the Council president
who sits on Public Safety with Houghton and Wood, thought businesses
should have been grandfathered until the ownership changed hands, as was
written in the previous draft of the ordinance. Robinson voted against
the ordinance.


“It didn’t do what I thought it needed to
do,” which was a hybrid of what other communities are doing, as well as
Bernero’s and other Council members’ visions, Robinson said. “My
frustration was with multiple 4-4 votes and the inability to have a
give-and-take balance. The goal was to have some semblance of a hybrid. I
don’t know that did this.”


Robinson was against Houghton’s idea to
limit the grandfathering stage to one year. “Now we’re telling them they
have to break those leases.” She reluctantly voted to allow businesses
in F commercial zones because there was no movement on the
grandfathering issue. “When we pigeonholed those businesses into moving
and gave them no option to move to, we did a disservice.”


Basore wasn’t pleased with the Council’s politicking.


“I’m disappointed in many of the Council
members that we worked with. At times, it didn’t make any sense what
they were voting on one way or the other,” he said.

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