Marijuana Zoning Goes to Public Hearing; ELPD Explains its Position

Monday, December 4, 2017, 6:59 am
Ann Nichols and Alice Dreger

Tomorrow, December 5, East Lansing’s City Council will be holding a public hearing on a law aimed at “defining, allowing for, and regulating medical marijuana facilities.” This is one of several public hearings that will be held essentially on the question of whether—and, if so, where in the city limits—East Lansing should allow commercial growing, processing, testing, and/or selling of marijuana.

In advance of the hearing, ELi asked the East Lansing Police Department (ELPD) to explain its view on the matter. ELPD’s Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez responded, telling ELi that Chief Larry Sparkes “has been consulted on this matter by the city’s planning department. During this consultation, Chief Sparkes reviewed studies published via an article put out by the Harvard Kenny School’s Shorenstein Center.” (Gonzalez provided this link to the article.)

According to Gonzalez, “These studies demonstrated that significantly increased crime rates did not materialize after approval of the resolutions.” He added that, “as a law enforcement agency, we must make a concerted effort to remain objective in the passage of legislation and ordinances. It would be inappropriate for the police department to ‘lobby’ for a position one way or the other.” So, he says, “As we did in this instance, we try to provide objective feedback on issues when requested by city leadership.”

ELi has previously reported on the diverse responses to this issue when it recently came before the East Lansing’s Planning Commission, a review body which is advisory to City Council. Tuesday’s hearing at City Council specifically relates to proposed Ordinance 1395, which establishes zoning for the growing, processing, testing, storing, and transportation of medical marijuana in East Lansing.

A separate ordinance, 1416, governs medical marijuana provisioning centers (dispensaries) in the City. The Planning Commission has also recommended passage of Ordinance 1416, which will come before Council at a later date

Although some have characterized these proposals as having occurred suddenly, Ordinance 1416 was actually introduced by City Council back in 2016. This was in response to a change in Michigan law, aimed at legalizing and regulating significantly more medical marijuana-related commercial activities. The 2016 State law, Public Act 281, governs all business activities related to medical marijuana, and the application process for licensure under that law will begin on December 15 of this year.

The State’s motivation for expanding legalization is at least partly monetary: the plan is to tax all aspects of the medical marijuana business. Local municipalities, if they allow these operations, would share in the revenue gained. This seems likely to be part of the calculation for at least some East Lansing City Council members, given budget problems faced by the City.

Homeowners on the northern side of the City continue to indicate strong feelings against allowing any marijuana-related facilities near their homes. Anne Hill, Chair of the Hawk Nest Homeowners’ Association, has named potential bad odors, an increase in crime, and a drop in property values as reasons why she and neighbors do not want Council to allow marijuana operations in their part of the City.

Other citizens have spoken at Planning Commission meetings to express their belief that changes in state and local laws will lead to lucrative business opportunities that will generate much-needed tax revenue.

Commercial marijuana production and sale remains entirely illegal at the federal level, a situation that adds layers of complications for states and municipalities that seek legalization of medical and/or recreational marijuana. (Michigan law currently legalizes only marijuana used for medical purposes.) It also creates challenges to marijuana businesses, which may be operating legally under local and state laws but not under federal law.

City Council’s meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in Courtroom 2, upstairs, at 101 Linden Street (the south side of City Hall). You can view the published agenda here. Any member of the public can speak during public comments, and comments can be sent in writing to council via email using the address