DDA Recommends Against Marijuana Provisioning Centers Downtown

Friday, December 15, 2017, 9:00 am
Alice Dreger

Above: Bloom City Club medical marijuana dispensary in Ann Arbor, Michigan

East Lansing’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) voted unanimously yesterday to advise City Council to take more time and do more research before deciding on where medical marijuana provisioning centers (dispensaries) might be allowed in East Lansing. The members present also voted to tell the Council that, at this time, they recommend against allowing provisioning centers anywhere in the DDA district.

City Council is set to take up the question of where to allow provisioning centers next Tuesday night, December 19, when Council will hold a public hearing on draft Ordinance 1416. Although Planning Commission has already recommended the draft ordinance to City Council, members of the DDA thought it made sense for Council to pause and consider what realities the City might face given that “emergency rules” were issued only recently by the State on the issue of medical marijuana regulation.

City Council and Planning Commission have been working on the issue of how to regulate marijuana growing, processing, transportation, testing, and provisioning for about a year. Most recently, City Council voted 4-1 on zoning regulations regarding all activities other than provisioning centers. The issue has been quite controversial, with an unusually high number of citizens weighing in on the matter.

The DDA cannot decide on this matter but is formally asked to advise Council of its opinion. In its discussion yesterday, the DDA took into account the fact that current regulations require that provisioning centers not be located closer than 1,000 feet from a school (K-12) or daycare facility and that there not be more than one every 500 feet. The daycare at Peoples Church plus the planned daycare at the Bailey Center means a wide swath of downtown retail space is off-limits for the sale of medical marijuana to patients.

Additional recommended limitations with regard to permissible zones—plus the issue of limited available retail space and the limits of property owners’ tolerance for housing such businesses—greatly limits where provisioning centers could be located in East Lansing.

David Haywood, Planning and Zoning Administrator, showed a map at the DDA meeting indicating that there are only a small number of locations in the DDA district where provisioning centers could likely locate. These include spaces along Grand River Avenue between MAC and Charles Street and between Kedzie and Hagadorn Road.

Even if Council were to allow provisioning centers in the DDA district, opening one in East Lansing would be subject to obtaining not only state-level approval but also a Special Use Permit (SUP) approved by East Lansing’s City Council. Council has a great deal of discretionary power where SUPs are concerned.

In effect, various marijuana operations could become technically legal but be almost impossible to operate in practice.

At yesterday’s meeting, a number of DDA members expressed not wanting to have provisioning centers in East Lansing because of the appearance of the existing dispensaries in Lansing along Michigan Avenue. DDA Vice Chair Douglas Jester joked they don’t want provisioning centers to “look seedy,” but aesthetics was truly the concern of a number of DDA members, particularly Eric Sudol, Jeff Kusler, and Brad Ballein.

Ballein has consistently opposed marijuana operations downtown, saying yesterday that he did not want “pot shops” downtown. Sudol added that he was “highly skeptical it would add anything [positive] to our downtown in the near future.”

Above: Kind Marijuana Dispensary on Michigan Avenue, in Lansing

Jester noted that the medical marijuana businesses along Michigan Avenue in Lansing occupied older houses that were converted to retail and that generally had a low-quality aesthetic to begin with. He said he did not want security requirements put forth by the state to create standards that result in East Lansing’s downtown looking like a high-crime area if it means provisioning centers must have, for example, windows covered with security bars. He said this was not consistent with the look of a successful downtown.

When asked why Planning Commission suggested provisioning centers could be housed in the B3 zoning district as well as the B2, Haywood noted that Planning Commission wrestled with this issue but recognized that ultimately there are many “high-security” types of retail in the B3, including jewelry stores and liquor stores.

DDA member Lynsey Clayton, who previously served on Planning Commission, wanted to know what guidelines exist at the state level for how exteriors of provisioning centers should look. She was concerned that they not look out of keeping with community standards. She suggested repeatedly that, now that the state guidelines have been issued, Planning Commission should go back to consider the issue, even if Planning has already passed it up to City Council.

DDA Chair Peter Dewan noted that it is likely that next year Michigan voters will be asked whether to legalize recreational marijuana, and that if that happens, this will be a larger issue to manage. He suggested the community needs to start planning now for that eventuality as it considers where to allow sales of medical marijuana.

Mayor Mark Meadows, a member of the DDA, pointed out that there are other areas of the City that could potentially house medical marijuana provisioning centers if they are effectively zoned out of the downtown. These include areas along Trowbridge Road, at “The Point” (near Frandor), and in some northern areas of the city. (Residents of the Northern Tier recently came out strongly against growing, processing, transporting, and testing operations in their area.)

DDA member Colin Cronin was generally less skeptical of such operations, having just returned from seeing professional grow and processing operations which he said were high-tech, high-security, and unidentifiable as marijuana operations.

Both Cronin and Clayton suggested that if the City wants to make East Lansing a “walkable” community and wants people living downtown, and if the City is going to have provisioning centers, it makes sense to locate them downtown where people live.

But Dewan said he thought investments being made downtown should be protected from “seedy operations” moving in. He said someone would need to convince him that “you can have proper provisioning centers that meld well into retail merchant” space. Sudol agreed, saying there was “a reason” that “there is stigma around these.”

Jester suggested that it would make sense to get more information about how dispensaries work in places where recreational marijuana usage has been legalized statewide, as, he suggested “Lansing has not been the normal situation.” He wanted to know more about how land use is managed in places like Colorado.

Clayton agreed, saying it made sense to look at best practices, not worst. She suggested they look at places like Boulder, Colorado.

Ultimately the motion that passed unanimously was put forth by Jester. That motion was that the DDA recommend Council not take action at the present time on Ordinance 1416 regarding provisioning centers, and thus allow additional time for Council and the various boards and commissions to study the question, but that if Council chooses to act at this time, the DDA recommends that the DDA district be excluded from areas that can have provisioning centers.