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Number of East Lansing marijuana businesses slated to grow to five in 2022

Skymint storefront at night including an illuminated sign and several glass walls so you can see into a reception area
Courtesy
/
Dylan Lees for ELi
Skymint is among three dispensaries in East Lansing.

In the two years since recreational marijuana was legalized in Michigan, dispensaries have cropped up across the capital region, including three in East Lansing.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with East Lansing Info journalist Andrew Graham who recently reported on the state of the city’s marijuana retailers.

Interview Highlights

On what's unique about the way the city handles these businesses

Each town and township and municipality lays out their own rules, but East Lansing sort of set out these four very specific areas and then laid out setbacks, so there couldn't be too many dispensaries close to each other. So, I would say density or the sort of intentional lack thereof is kind of the the hallmark of East Lansing retail so far.

On if the city council could allow more dispensaries in town

They could create more areas. They could lower the setback number, do any number of things to, if there was suddenly desire to have three, four more dispensaries somewhere in town, they could open it up for that. So, under the current laws, we're kind of getting close to where it would be the limit of things, but there's always the possibility for a future city council to open things up and allow more space and more construction and more dispensaries to be built.

On some of these businesses profits going back into the community

There's a specific requirement for dispensaries in East Lansing that they spend $5,000 or one percent of their annual profits, whichever number is greater, and donate that to a nonprofit that I believe it benefits the citizens of East Lansing and there's a couple different causes, either low-to-moderate income families, conservation of natural resources or anti-animal cruelty, things like that.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

In the two years since recreational marijuana was legalized in Michigan, dispensaries have cropped up across the capital region, including three in East Lansing.

Andrew Graham is a journalist with East Lansing Info who recently reported on the state of the city’s marijuana retailers.

He joins me now. Thanks for being here.

Andrew Graham: Thank you for having me.

Saliby: What, if anything, sets East Lansing apart from other cities with cannabis stores?

Graham: I think, in my experience, what sets East Lansing apart is they've been very deliberate in zoning, to kind of create very specific places where a dispensary might be.

I know there was a lot of impetus to keep them away from neighborhoods, and there was a certain desire not to have a bunch of them in one area to create sort of a "cannabis district," so to speak. So, I know there was, they sort of created four specific zoned areas using overlay districts.

And so, in my experience, that's been a little unique to East Lansing in that there's kind of each town and township and municipality lays out their own rules, but East Lansing sort of set out these four very specific areas and then laid out setbacks, so there couldn't be too many dispensaries close to each other. So, I would say density, or the sort of intentional lack thereof, is kind of the the hallmark of East Lansing retail so far.

Saliby: Setting up a dispensary does seem a little bit more complicated than establishing any other business.

Could you explain a little about the permitting process that these businesses have to go through?

Graham: Absolutely. So, there's a whole state level permitting process, and I'm not gonna pretend I'm an expert in that, but there is a whole licensure process with the state. And then you also have to get approved within whatever municipality, and they can set out their own, again, like the zoning.

So, in East Lansing, you need to apply for a special use permit for both recreational use and medical marijuana use. So, if a dispensary is selling both medical and adult use, they'll have two special use permits. And that requires an application. You have to go to Planning Commission. You have to go before Council.

It has to get approved, and it's at a fee of $5,000 per permit application. So, just to sell adult use and medical marijuana in East Lansing, you got to spend $10,000.

Saliby: Like we talked about, there are three established businesses, and there are two planed shops that you mentioned in your article. Is there room for more dispensaries to come to East Lansing or are we kind of at the limit?

Graham: I can't say exactly based on the current zoning. I haven't measured the setbacks myself, but I know it's getting kind of tight under the current zoning. Now, City Council always has the power to come back and change it.

They could create more areas. They could lower the setback number, do any number of things to, if there was suddenly desire to have three, four more dispensaries somewhere in town, they could open it up for that. So, under the current laws, we're kind of getting close to where it would be the limit of things, but there's always the possibility for a future city council to open things up and allow more space and more construction and more dispensaries to be built.

Saliby: When marijuana was legalized, it was established that some of the money that these businesses make must go to public goods through taxes.

Do we know about how much money is being collected and where it's going, if it's making a difference?

Graham: Yeah, there's a couple different things in East Lansing. They have, which applies to all developments, the "Percent for Art" requirement, which basically requires one percent of a project or a development at a certain threshold be spent on a public art requirement.

So, that applies to dispensaries, and then there's a specific requirement for dispensaries in East Lansing that they spend $5,000 or one percent of their annual profits, whichever number is greater, and donate that to a nonprofit that I believe it benefits the citizens of East Lansing and there's a couple different causes, either low-to-moderate income families, conservation of natural resources or anti-animal cruelty, things like that.

So, there's a sort of very specific annual process of donating to these specific organizations benefiting East Lansing, and there's also the excise tax on top of it. So, I think East Lansing is netting a little, I think it's $56,000 in revenue for the last year.

Saliby: In this last minute, is there anything surprising you learned about the marijuana business when reporting this story, something you maybe didn't know before?

Graham: It's something that, this didn't make it into the story, but it's something I've anecdotally experienced and talked with people about is that in terms of a retail job, they're very popular and they're very lucrative for a lot of people right now.

I know a lot of friends of mine who work at retail have considered or wanted to go work for a dispensary because they pay more. It's pretty much, that's the end of it. So, I think that didn't make it in the story, but that's been a very interesting aspect of they're a pretty sought after retail job for the people who do want one.

Saliby: Andrew Graham is a reporter with East Lansing Info. Thank you for joining me.

Graham: Thank you.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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