After Proposition 1 was passed by Michigan voters in 2018, many cities and counties in the state are grappling with how they’ll open their communities to recreational marijuana. That includes college towns like Ann Arbor and East Lansing, where marijuana has been decriminalized for years.
In 2016, the city council passed an ordinance that allowed individuals over 21 to use marijuana on their private property. And, instead of receiving a misdemeanor or felony, individuals under 21 are only charged with an appearance ticket and given a low fine. At the time, it was only $25.
Now, medical marijuana dispensaries are popping up across East Lansing, and the council is faced with deciding who permissive they’ll be with recreational marijuana licensing in the city.
The candidates view run the gamut from fully supporting integration of recreational marijuana into the community to caution about how welcoming cannabis entrepreneurs within city limits.
Proceed with Caution
Candidate Lisa Babcock is running for one of the four-year terms on the East Lansing city council. She said decriminalization of marijuana is long overdue, but times have changed and so has the product on the streets.
“I think there are a lot of people that are committed to making this work. I think marijuana has been demonized for decades in a way it shouldn’t be, but I also think marijuana has changed over the past 20 years in terms of its content and we need to be more aware of that.”
Michigan State University student Warren Stanfield III agreed with Babcock. He said he welcomes the change. However, he adds that the city also needs to consider where these new businesses are going; it could change the image of the city.
“You want that currency that they bring in. And trust me, I’d love a dispensary in East Lansing, I just don’t want it on Grand River.”
Incumbent and current Mayor Pro Tempore Erik Altmann said that a more conservative approach should be taken by businesses expanding in the city. He said he thinks this approach will gain more support on the council and generally satisfy the community.
“There is still the problem of the drug being federally illegal and so there’s a bunch of question marks hanging over. Community acceptance is not at 100% so we designated these four areas as places where provisioning centers could set up.”
Regulation is Key
Jessy Gregg said she thinks marijuana should be regulated the same way liquor is regulated in the city, “Once you bump it into a recreational and non-medical category, it is essentially an entertainment just the way that having a drink is entertainment. Looking at some of the ways that we’ve legislated our liquor ordinances which do include things like separation between businesses.”
Incumbent Mayor Mark Meadows said he’d like to see the ordinance allowing recreational marijuana to be sold in East Lansing passed out of council.
“In those areas that we have already zoned for the sale of medical marijuana and at those facilities, they will have the opportunity anyway so both sell recreational and medical if it passes, and it was language that I support,” said Meadows.
Learning from Others
But not every candidate is pro-pot, even with caveats. John Revitte said the city should take a look at what other college towns have done after the state legalized recreational marijuana. He said he’s concerned about how increased marijuana use could impact transit safety.
“We should make sure that we’re doing best practices and we should check what do other college towns do about different issues, so marijuana might be one. Maybe we need to talk to some people in Colorado at college towns to see how they’ve addressed some of the possible problems.”
Most candidates see marijuana in East Lansing as an opportunity, but how strictly these new businesses should be regulated is up for debate.