Three Council Members Vote Down Sale of Medical Marijuana in East Lansing

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018, 10:19 am
Dan Totzkay, Ann Nichols, and Alice Dreger

After over two hours of discussion, last night a majority of East Lansing’s City Council voted to reject a law which would have allowed and regulated the sale of medical marijuana in East Lansing.

After multiple amendments to drafts of Ordinance 1416a, the vote came in 3-2 against adopting the law. Erik Altmann, Shanna Draheim and Aaron Stephens voted against, and Mark Meadows and Ruth Beier voted in favor of passage of the final version.

Ordinance 1416a would have regulated the final remaining component of the medical marijuana industry in East Lansing, namely provisioning centers, commonly called dispensaries. Council voted previously to allow growing, processing, testing, and transportation facilities in the city and established areas where those activities may occur.

Ordinance 1416a has been debated and modified by the city’s Planning Commission, and numerous draft versions have been discussed and modified by City Council. The version of the ordinance on which Council finally voted last night was the most conservative and complex version to date.

The reasons given by members voting against the ordinance varied widely.

Altmann, East Lansing’s Mayor Pro Tem, explained that he was voting “no” in part because the ordinance would be too susceptible to litigation. He said his approach had been to try to make the ordinance “as conservative as possible” with a very small number of provisioning centers permitted, to see how such businesses would really function in East Lansing.

Draheim based her “no” vote on the fact that the final version of the law was “overly complicated and overly regulated, which … doesn’t ever work well for the community.” She had signaled her disappointment with where things were headed early on, when Meadows, Beier, and Altmann voted to disallow the sale of any marijuana product that could be smoked or vaped.

Stephens specifically opposed restrictions on which marijuana products could be sold, adding that Council was “not considering this a medicine” as he said it should be. Both Draheim and Stephens wanted to see a less regulated, more market-driven approach.

In their remarks, Draheim and Stephens emphasized the importance of access to medical marijuana for patients. But Altmann argued that patients could go to Lansing to have prescriptions filled. Altmann also suggested patients could grow and process their own plants if, as expected, a statewide proposal passes next week to legalize recreational marijuana.

Mayor Meadows said he viewed the ordinance as a pilot program of sorts, to be used in order to figure out how best to manage provisioning centers here. He said that he was “certain” that Michigan Proposal 1 will pass on November 6, and said that it was essential for East Lansing to establish its own regulations before that happened, to give the City “something in place that we could defend.”

Beier gave no reason for her “yes” vote and participated the least in the proposal of amendments and related discussions.

The City of East Lansing, via the City Council, has already chosen to “opt in” under state law to allow medical marijuana facilities and to receive a portion of a tax on the sale of marijuana products.

But last night’s decision means that there is no legal way to own or operate a provisioning center in East Lansing. That also means the various taxes and charitable donations that might have been required to be paid by such dispensaries will not be produced in East Lansing.

Representatives of the marijuana industry came out in force last night to push for various items they wanted the local law to incorporate or to leave out. Many focused especially on proposed districting – which involved overlays and distance-setting between retail operations – as being too restrictive. They also expressed concern that the prohibition of inhaled products would erode the majority of provisioning centers’ profits, making them untenable.

By contrast, Steve Angelotti, representing the City Center Condominium Association’s Board, voiced support for Mayor Meadow’s proposed changes, asserting the Association’s continued concern over having a provisioning center in or adjacent to their building. As we reported previously, a medical marijuana provisioning business had expressed interest in locating in the vacant space previously occupied by Cosi, on the first floor of the building containing the City Center condominiums.

Dana Watson, an East Lansing resident, spoke to the “public benefits” clause in the draft law. This was designed to direct some profits of provisioning centers to local charities. She encouraged Council to consider replacing the ordinance’s draft requirement of a $5,000 annual donation with a percentage of sales, because, she said, some provisioning centers make a great deal of money and this would increase the amount of money given to East Lansing-focused non-profit organizations.

Council supported Watson’s suggestion, expanding the types of charities that could be provided funds under this portion of the law, but ultimately this and all other amendments did not matter since the majority voted against passage of the law itself.

As it stands now, the future of medical marijuana provisioning centers in East Lansing is unclear. Meadows, a long-time Michigan politician and attorney, expressed his certainty that Proposal 1 will pass next week and insisted that it was essential that East Lansing have its own regulations in place before that. Last night’s decision means there is no such local regulation in place.

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