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Lansing's Medical Marijuana History Is Complicated And Changing

After both medical and recreational marijuana were legalized this year's crop of Lansing city council candidates are tasked with taking a position on the future of marijuana in the city.
Reginald Hardwick
WKAR Public Media
In 2008, Michigan voters approved medical marijuana use. Lansing is still working on an ordinance to regulate its medical marijuana establishments.

The Lansing City Council meets Monday, June 12 to discuss the latest draft of their medical marijuana ordinance.

The ordinance will license and regulate medical marijuana establishments in line with the state law Governor Snyder signed just last year to legalize edibles and dispensaries.

If you’re thinking, “wait-I thought medical marijuana was already legal in Michigan,” then you’re right. Michigan voters passed that law in 2008.

But it wasn’t until last year, when Snyder signed those bills, that the state began setting up its licensing.

In all these years without clear regulation, marijuana dispensaries have popped up all around Lansing. Drive along Cedar Street, Washington Ave. or Michigan Avenue and you see them. There are estimates of 50 or more, but we don’t know of any agency that tracks the official number. Click here for a map of dispensaries.

"Most of the operations that are out there now are not licensed under any ordinance."

Jim Smiertka is Lansing’s City Attorney. “Most of the operations that are out there now are not licensed under any ordinance,” he says. “They are operating under the rules of the ballot initiative, the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, which requires that there be a caregiver, five patients, and it talks about how marijuana is stored.”


But the act doesn't regulate marijuana facilities.

Now, Lansing has passed an ordinance to regulate medical marijuana before, in 2011. But then that same year the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the sale of medical marijuana was illegal, adding to the confusion.  That’s why Snyder passing that law last year to legalize and license it cleared things up. And that’s why Lansing is working on a new ordinance.

Council member Adam Hussain is the chair of the Public Safety Committee, who drafted the current ordinance.

“What we have now is a situation that’s completely out of control, we don’t know what these folks are selling, we don’t know who they’re selling to, we don’t know who is selling” he says.

When you think of medical marijuana, what probably comes to mind is the dispensaries, with their typical green signage, also referred to as provisioning centers. But there are also growing facilities, processing facilities, secure transporters, and safety compliance centers, which are testing labs.

The ordinance the council is considering would decide which parts of town these establishments can be in, and the distances they’d have to be from places like schools, parks, and each other.

City Attorney Smiertka says many details of the ordinance are still being discussed within the council.

“There are many issues that have to be debated, one is should these other establishments which are really manufacturing and safety compliance establishments, should they be subject to the same distance regulations that let’s say is on Cedar or some other street.”

WKAR Special Report: Marijuana in Michigan
Credit illustration / WKAR-MSU

"Why wouldn't you want production facilities and testing facilities clustered together?"

Mayor Virg Bernero says  no, these establishments shouldn’t be treated the same as dispensaries.

“Why wouldn’t you want production facilities and testing facilities clustered together? Why would that be a problem? It would make perfect sense to me,”he says. “That you would have your security company, your testing company, and your production companies, corporations and warehouse right close together.”

The mayor also says this is a burgeoning industry and that developers are interested in turning some of the city’s former automotive and industrial warehouse space into production facilities.

“We’re talking about millions of dollars of investment and a lot of jobs that would be coming to our city and I think would add value that could be lost with this broad brush approach that the public safety committee has taken. And I’m just frankly stunned and flabbergasted that they would want to snuff out this industry.”

Council member Hussain disagrees. “We’re charged with ensuring that people have safe and secure access. It’s never been the charge of the council to make sure we bring in millions and millions of dollars,” he says.

Other Michigan cities are dealing with this issue in a variety of ways. In April, Detroit debuted an online map that shows 72 medical marijuana businesses operating and 161 that have been shut down. There’s also a form citizens can use to report a dispensary issue. Ann Arbor has some dispensaries but is still deciding whether to license other types of marijuana businesses.

Figuring out how to navigate medical marijuana has been a long process for all of Michigan. And for Lansing, tonight’s council meetings should bring the city one step closer to clarity.

The Lansing City Council Committee of the Whole meets at 5:30 p.m. on the tenth floor of City Hall. They will discuss the marijuana ordinance and possibly schedule a public hearing on it. Their regular council meeting will follow at 7. 





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