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Lansing, East Lansing move toward a ‘green Christmas’

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Lansing appears poised to open its marijuana provisioning centers to the general adult public in November, but the city will likely fall short of a full embrace of legal weed at least before 2020.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor proposed an ordinance keeping in place some of the compromises that were chiseled out between his predecessor Virg Bernero and Council President Carol Wood. But like Bernero before him, he lost some and he won some.

“We kept most of what he pushed forward,” said Council Member Adam Hussain, who represents Ward 3, on the southwest side.

The passage of an ordinance, which the Council plans to do on Sept. 30, will allow adults to buy pot in the capital city this November without a marijuana card, which requires a doctor’s approval for a specific set of ailments shown to be relieved by medical cannabis.

In East Lansing, Mayor Mark Meadows said the Council had approved regulations that will allow recreational marijuana businesses to piggyback onto its earlier medical marijuana ordinances. East Lansing, too, could have marijuana shops in place in time for a green Christmas.

The Lansing City Council is considering an amended ordinance from the Public Safety Committee that will allow two new pot business types — social clubs where adults can imbibe publicly on cannabis, and microbusinesses, which are limited to 150 plants — and provide an opening for entrepreneurs into the burgeoning marijuana market.

But the Council also limited those businesses to eight — one of each license — in each of the city’s four wards.

“I think we should have more than four microbusinesses, but I’m willing to work with that,” Schor said. “I’m not planning to veto” the amendments.

Tightened zoning restrictions

The majority of the Council is also moving to make even more of the city off-limits to marijuana sales, expanding the no-go zones to include 500 feet from any park. Rules put in place around schools, churches, child day cares and playgrounds already leave about 80 percent off limits to marijuana sales, even as these areas proliferate with bars and the retail sale of cigarettes, beer and liquor.

“We heard loud and clear from neighbors,” said Hussain, from people who wanted more restrictions around parks. At last week’s Council meeting, only marijuana opponents spoke from the public, even though 71 percent of the city voted for full adult legalization last year. “We got it wrong with alcohol and tobacco,” he said, and would vote to ban their sale in more of the city if state law allowed it.

The 25 businesses that have received or are in line to receive a medical marijuana provisioning center license are exempt from the new restriction, but it will take place for the three new provisioning centers or any future businesses that take a slot from the first 25 if they close.

Schor could have supported more than 28 regular marijuana retail businesses in the city, but he wasn’t going to reopen that can of worms that beguiled his predecessor. “Twenty-five was the result of a long and arduous process before I was mayor. We didn’t want to make big massive changes, we just wanted to add recreational.”

He said it was unlikely that the Council would become any more pro-marijuana soon. The tight restrictions on marijuana businesses are a backlash against the initial unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries, which proliferated by the dozens, especially in south Lansing, where Council members such as Wood and Jody Washington regarded them not as positive pot businesses but as weeds.

Hussain said he viewed the ordinance as a “living document,” and was receptive to reopening the ordinance next year if others wanted to make changes, but he was reluctant to make the marijuana policy too broad and be unable to rein it in once “the toothpaste is out of the tube.”

Both sides agreed to get rid of the Medical Marijuana Commission, which Schor, Hussain, At-Large Councilman Peter Spadafore and City Clerk Chris Swope all said worked mainly to add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to the system and keep proposed marijuana businesses in limbo for months.

“It took forever. The industry was stagnating,” Spadafore said.

The new regulations also remove much of the complex scoring system from statute, giving Swope more leeway in approving applications. “We’re going to be a lot faster,” Swope said. “I don’t envision wholesale changes to what we’re doing.”

East Lansing goes green

East Lansing has five dispensaries in the approval pipeline, with one on East Grand River Avenue and a second near Costco the furthest along. None of them are immediately ready to open, so by the time they are, they may be able to sell both to adults over 21 and to patients with a prescription. “I think it’s going to be a highly competitive business,” Meadows said.

Because his city has not yet had any medical marijuana sales, Meadows said the city had not yet discussed expanding its cannabis footprint to include social clubs or a “Hash Bash” like Michigan’s other Big Ten college town, Ann Arbor.

East Lansing is one of 19 Michigan cities where businesses can get discounts on state licenses because of a history of social inequity during marijuana prohibition. Meadows was surprised East Lansing qualified, given the city stopped criminal arrests for marijuana possession decades ago.

The social equity measure is determined by both arrests and poverty levels, and he said the city had an overlooked number of apartment complexes for lower-income people, and many independent students have very low incomes.

The Michigan State University police may also not have the same liberal history tolerating marijuana, and could be factored into the formula, since the campus is inside the city limits, even if the city of East Lansing has little control over the university. “They’re not bound by our policies. If that was lumped in, it could be the reason,” Meadows said.

A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Regulatory Affairs did not respond to questions about the social equity formula.

The Lansing Council already shot down implementing a social equity program last week. At-Large Council Member Kathie Dunbar was denied her push for a social equity measure to help repair the damages caused by marijuana prohibition, which hammered African-American and low-income neighborhoods, setting many young people back for life.

Dunbar faced stiff opposition from Washington and At-Large Council Member Patricia Spitzley, both of whom face re-election this fall. But social equity is another policy that the Lansing City Council could revisit next year.

“I’m interested in the conversation about social equity,” Spadafore said, while stating that just mirroring the state’s discount program — as Dunbar proposed — may not be the way to go.

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