Council Votes to Postpone Decision on Marijuana Provisioning Centers

Wednesday, December 20, 2017, 12:10 pm
Jessy Gregg

After a lengthy discussion, East Lansing's City Council has deferred their decision on Ordinance 1416 which would outline zoning specifications for Medical Marijuana Provisioning centers within the City of East Lansing. Although the City’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) voted last week to ask Council to defer its decision on provisioning centers, the DDA's request was not mentioned in Council’s discussion of the Ordinance. The Planning Commission unanimously supported draft Ordinance 1416.

In its current, draft form, Ordinance 1416 allows provisioning centers in B2 (Retail Sales Business), B4 (Restricted Office Business) and B5 (Community Retail Sales Business) zones, as long as they are at least 1000 feet away from K-12 schools or state-licensed daycare facilities. This excludes the downtown which has its own zoning district, B-3 which is classified as “City Center Commercial,” but would include the storefronts on West Grand River and a large area of mostly vacant land off Coolidge Road, north of Lake Lansing. Additionally, 1416 currently requires that each provisioning center be at least 500 feet away from any other provisioning center.

In contrast to the public hearings on the recently approved Ordinance 1395 which governs the location of medical marijuana growing, processing, transport and testing facilities, all of the public comment at last night’s meeting was positive. Oncology nurse Travis Wilson addressed the council, praising them for their support of medical marijuana in East Lansing and saying that he has seen cannabis make a positive difference in the lives of his patients.

Steve Monti also commended the City Council for their consideration but suggested that due to complicated licensing requirements at the state level the 500 foot separation between provisioning centers might create litigation problems for the city. He outlined a scenario in which someone might put considerable work into outfitting a potential provisioning location, only to find that because of privacy requirements surrounding applications, someone within 500 feet had beaten them to the punch and opened their center first.

Erik Altman seemed to agree with this sentiment, saying that he thought using zoning language currently found in the liquor licensing laws which refers to “undue concentration” would give East Lansing sufficient power to limit the density of provisioning centers in any given area without requiring the 500 foot separation.

Subsequently there was extensive conversation about the fact that while the “undue concentration” language already existed in relation to other licensed businesses (like those that sell alcohol), it had never been used as a rationale for denial of a special use permit. Attorney Tom Hitch, sitting in for City Attorney Tom Yeadon, agreed with several Councilmembers that it would put City staff in a difficult position and invite discrimination lawsuits if, in place of hard and fast rules regarding distance between facilities, decisions were made based on a subjective, “undue concentration” language.

During the discussion Mayor Mark Meadows questioned whether the zoning requirements should be extended to include Office Industrial Park (“OIP”) districts, as well. Ordinance 1395 permits growing, processing, transporting and testing facilities in OIP districts, and Meadows pointed out that allowing provisioning centers within OIP districts would allow some businesses to co-locate their operations and provide medical marijuana for sale on the same site where it was grown and/or refined.

City Zoning Administrator David Heywood said that he had now had time to closely review the “emergency rules” that were very recently put out by the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board, the state agency charged with overseeing medical marijuana facilities in Michigan. Based on his review, Heywood suggested some language changes to Ordinance 1416 that would remove conflict or redundancy and bring East Lansing’s regulations in line with state licensing rules.

For example, Ordinance 1416 would have allowed a provisioning center to operate a drive-through, but state regulations specifically prohibit that. It also prohibits the consumption of alcohol on the premises of medical marijuana facilities, which means that the language in East Lansing’s two ordinances saying the same thing is redundant since state law governs.

Heywood also pointed out that state law allows outdoor growing operations which are prohibited in East Lansing’s recently-passed Ordinance 1395; this may or may not require that law to be amended to be in line with state requirements.

Meadows asked Heywood to prepare an alternate version of the Ordinance with the language updated for the Council to consider at their next meeting. Meadows also asked staff to provide them with a copy of Lansing’s already-adopted regulations which include a 100 point ranking system for determining which applicants would be granted licenses. Lansing’s ordinance requires Medical Marijuana businesses to get a separate license from the City in addition to the State license, and caps the number of licenses that will be available.

Because of the number of questions which the Council asked staff to research, and the absence of Council Member Ruth Beier, Council has decided unanimously defer their vote on Ordinance 1416 until their next meeting on January 9th. According to Mayor Meadows, “I don’t think this is a question of will we, it’s a question of more the structure of what we will do.”