Pot Regulation in Lansing

Despite being an illegal drug, marijuana is widely utilized and in some cases, the preferred method of medical treatment for many illnesses. In 2008, the act was approved to rule in favor of medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan. Fast forward eight years later to 2016, and the area is still buzzing with talk of future laws, legislature and regulations regarding the approved medical marijuana shops, which are plentiful in the Lansing city limits.

Steve Japinga, director of government relations at the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce spoke about the rise of the popularity of these dispensaries.

“This has been going on since 2008… I know back then, most people thought this was supposed to be going to those with real serious issues, not this recreational type use of where it kind of went,” Japinga said. “It kind of got out of control. Leading up to 2011 when the attorney general got involved, and this is when the Chamber first got involved – there were 20 or 30 on Michigan Avenue alone.”

Now there is an estimate of 70 – 80 medical marijuana dispensaries within Lansing proper, many taking up residence alongside MLK, Cedar, Pennsylvania, Larch and the Michigan Avenue corridor.

Besides the number of shops fluctuating, due to Supreme Court cases ruling them unfit, there have been other shifts in both regulation and conversation since 2008.

“I think a lot has changed since 2008 and 2011, its 2016 now, and I think our members understand the reality that our voters approved this,” Japinga said. “However, even earlier this year, when we felt again it was out of control, there weren’t those common sense regulations and zoning requirements.”

According to Carol Wood, council member at-large and owner of CEW Consultant, “The state law allows local governments to enact their own ordinance with regards to licensing medical marihuana facilities (spelled this way by the State of Michigan). They are allowed to limit the number of locations and restrict where they can place with regards to zoning. If the local government does not have an ordinance, the state will not issue them a license.”

Marijuana on the federal level is considered an illegal substance, labeled a schedule 1 narcotic. While states like Colorado, Washington and Oregon are moving entirely to legalize marijuana, in Michigan and many other states, that is not the case.

Conversations between the Council, city and community members are frequent in regards to how to regulate these facilities around Lansing. The Planning Board held a Public Hearing on Oct. 4 and discussed this topic.

“At the meeting, there was a letter for the City Attorney, who crafted the ordinance, asking that action be delayed for sixty days to allow his office to review the new state law and suggestions from others on the ordinance,” Wood said.

“The new state law calls for the Governor to appoint a commission to oversee the licensing of medical marihuana facilities and they have 360 days to write their rules.”

According to Wood, if the council waits for the new rules, it would take an additional 15 months before the city would have a licensing ordinance.

Japinga said although voters ruled in favor of the dispensaries, the need for creating and maintaining licensing and zoning requirements within the city ordinance is evident.
“Earlier this year, we called for a moratorium,” he said. “It was like, ‘let’s hit the brakes on this, take a breather,’ let the council work through their process on coming up with a stronger, updated ordinance for the city of Lansing.”

“What works best for Lansing is different from Detroit, Grand Rapids, Traverse City … we’re all unique in the way we do things,” Japinga said.

In 2015, the City Council of Detroit voted 6 – 1 in favor of a zoning ordinance that could potentially close half of the city’s dispensaries. The zoning requirements mandate that these businesses be 1,000 feet from drug-free zones like child care centers, churches, schools, parks, libraries and other youth activity centers.

With this crack-down brought an influx of “pot shops” to the area, according to Eric Dimoff, marketing and communications at Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“I think what happened in Detroit when they put the cap on, and some of the other more stringent restrictions on it, that’s when a lot of them actually did come to Lansing. We saw an influx and rise pretty rapidly in the number of dispensaries we have in the city,” Dimoff said.
While the issue is certainly a hot topic for City Council, Chamber of Commerce, local, state, federal government and community members alike, the bottom line is about safety.

“As a legislative body we create policy based on State law or the desire to regulate an issue locally,” Wood said. “We understand the people of Michigan approved Medical Marijuana and since 2009 this council has tried to adopt legislation that is provides for safe, secure environment for patients and the community.”

Eric Dimoff said the Chamber of Commerce would ideally just like to see safe, smart, common sense regulations within the industry.

“Every business is regulated to some degree; we just want the industry — if it’s going to be here and thrive — to be well regulated and an example of how to do it at the local level,” Dimoff said.

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Sarah Spohn

Sarah Spohn

Sarah Spohn received her degree in Journalism from Lansing Community College. She’s a concert junkie; living and breathing in both the local and national music scene. She is proud to call Lansing her home, finding a new reason every day to be smitten with the mitten.

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