Planning Commission Makes Recommendations on Marijuana Sale Locations

Tuesday, March 6, 2018, 8:20 am
By: 
Ann Nichols

Above: Kind Dispensary, in Lansing

East Lansing’s Planning Commission has voted to recommend approval of a draft ordinance regulating the zoning for medical marijuana provisioning centers in East Lansing. The matter will now go back to City Council with the Commission’s recommendations.

As we reported previously, after approving zoning for medical marijuana growing, processing, testing and transportation operations in the City of East Lansing, City Council sent the original ordinance governing provisioning centers back to Planning Commission for consideration of a specific set of questions and considerations. (Provisioning centers are commonly called dispensaries.)

Following discussion at their February 14 meeting, the Planning Commission had asked City Planning staff liaison David Haywood to work with the City Attorney to draft language for a temporary cap on the number of provisioning centers to be permitted, with a “sunset” clause that would allow Council to terminate or extend those caps after a period of monitoring the outcome of allowing centers.

The proposed sunset clause presented by Haywood at last week’s meeting would allow Council to issue up to six Special Use Permits for provisioning centers in East Lansing, with no more than two issued for the B3 District, the City’s downtown business and retail center. Those limitations would expire on a “sunset” date set by City Council, unless Council renewed the limitations.

At the February 28 meeting, Commission members and Haywood talked about how applicants for the limited Special Use Permits would be chosen, and in what order. Haywood said he has envisioned a “first come, first serve” process where if “if two applications come to me at the same time, I put a hand out.”

Commission Chair Daniel Bollman stated that he feared “some kind of scrum” on the day the applications were due, and Commissioner Kathy Boyle asked whether they had to make a recommendation on the issue or whether the mechanics of receiving and ordering applications could be decided by staff. She suggested that a blind draw might be the fairest way to order applications.

The Commission ultimately made no decision on the issue of how applications would be processed, apparently opting to leave the details to Council and/or Planning staff.

After Commissioner Leo Sell called for a vote on approval of Draft Ordinance 1416a, which reflected changes made based on the Commission’s February 14 discussion during public hearing, discussion focused mainly on the relationship between caps and buffer distances between provisioning centers.

There was discussion on the question of whether either or both were necessary given the limited number of properties that would be available before imposing such limitations, because of the 1,000-foot space required between a provisioning center and a school or daycare. In a city the size and density of East Lansing, particularly in the downtown, this 1,000-foot spacing means there are already few locations available for provisioning centers.

Ultimately, the Commission voted 4-3 to recommend striking the new language setting caps on the number of provisioning centers. In another 4-3 vote, they decided to recommend striking the language requiring a 500-foot buffer between provisioning centers.

They also voted unanimously to strike language creating overlay districts for medical marijuana provisioning businesses. These would have further restricted possible locations. Commissioner Chris Wolf said he didn’t think an overlay district “gains us anything,” and Commissioner Boyle said she didn’t see why the City would limit provisioning centers downtown and allow them in other retail districts.

Before voting on the amended draft Ordinance 1416a as a whole, Commission members addressed the question of what message they wanted to send to City Council about the relationship between caps and buffer zones, and the meaning of the Commission’s split votes.

Commissioner Wolf said that, since he originally proposed the idea of a cap with a sunset provision “to make the ordinance more palatable” to those concerned about a proliferation of provisioning centers, he would rather see Council impose a temporary cap and no requirement of physical separation. Commissioners Bollman and Boyle also indicated that if the provision imposing a cap had remained in place, they would have voted to get rid of buffer zone language, strengthening that vote to 6-1.

Commissioner Bollman responded that the Commission’s letter to Council about their recommendations “can be very basic or detailed” and that they would “provide additional clarity on that issue.”

The Commission then voted 6-1 to approve Draft Ordinance 1416a, with Commissioner Andrew Quinn voting “nay.” In these discussions, none of the Commission members have expressed being categorically opposed to marijuana provisioning centers in East Lansing. For each member, there have been questions of how the City’s laws should or should not restrict them.

The Ordinance will now be sent back to City Council for a public hearing and vote.