Dispensaries growing as Lansing struggles to regulate

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By Alexander Smith
Listen Up Lansing Staff Reporter

Medical marijuana dispensaries are all over Lansing, and each one is different. Some look professional, others look questionable, and on some streets, they are right across from each other. Spacing between dispensaries is one of the many regulations laid out in the official city ordinance, but the ordinance has never been enforced.

In State of Michigan v. McQueen, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld that the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act does not permit patient-to-patient transfers of marijuana. In his dissent, former Justice Michael F. Cavanagh said the majority’s decision meant “…virtually all medical-marijuana dispensaries are illegal and thus enjoinable as a nuisance because those operations facilitate patient-to patient transfers of marijuana.”

Dispensaries can be found across the city. These are more reputable ones - some smaller ones are not represented. Courtesy of Weedmaps.com.

Dispensaries can be found across the city. These are more reputable ones – some smaller ones are not represented. Courtesy of Weedmaps.com.

City Ordinance 1168 was passed in 2011 and laid out regulations and licensing procedure for dispensaries in Lansing. After the Supreme Court’s decision, any plans to issue licenses were cancelled.

“We would not be in compliance with state law, we don’t have the immunities granted by law to assure any of these businesses that they would be legitimate,” said Deputy City Attorney Joseph Abood. “If the state does not act, and we get a new attorney general or a new president, and they decide to enforce the federal law, this puts people in peril.”

Lansing’s cautious approach was the subject of the city’s public safety committee meeting on Feb. 12. Some residents urged for regulation, arguing local regulation is better than waiting for state action, which may not come anytime soon.

“We have had hopes that we would have that legislation by now,” said Abood. “We are assured they are working on it [but] we don’t have a timetable.”

Committee Chairperson Carol Wood is tired of waiting.

“I’m not willing to wait to see what the state will do,” said Wood. “I understand the state attorney general’s opinion, but he drives these same streets that we drive. If he believes they’re illegal, there were things the state attorney general could have done, [but he] hasn’t done it.”

Lack of regulation has turned Lansing into a free market. Despite some shady vendors, the variety makes Lansing a great place for patients to shop.

“It’s the best it’s ever been now,” said MI Legalize Campaign Manager Chris Silva. “There’s pretty decent competition, there’s a good market for it, so there’s just a lot of incentive for people not to gouge, not to be a little too greedy. Right now it’s easier to find this stuff, and it’s gotten easier as there have been more dispensaries.”

A professional-looking dispensary at 4405 S. Martin Luther King Blvd. Photo by Alexander Smith.

A dispensary at 4405 S. Martin Luther King Blvd. Photo by Alexander Smith.

Silva is also a patient and suffers from a rare skin condition. While regulation is supported by most, some are against the city’s plan to limit the number of dispensaries. Issuing too few licenses could hurt patients like Silva who need a specialized medicine.

“I’m looking for a salve, an ointment, something that has no psychoactive elements, and it’s not exactly the most popular thing for these places to be selling,” said Silva. “If [the number of licenses] gets cut down, there’s a really good chance one of the dispensaries I go to for this is not going to be there anymore.”

Patients like Silva may not have access in their city, so they come to Lansing instead. Limiting licenses could stifle business and shut out patients, but Vice Chairperson Adam Hussain said city residents come first.

“Many, many people I’ve talked to who are opposing the enforcement of this ordinance, this capping, don’t live in Lansing,” said Hussain. “I want you to understand as our council members move forward, we don’t represent [them], with all due respect. We represent the residents of Lansing, and it is not the burden of this city to supply the entire state – or mid-Michigan I should say – with medical marijuana.”

A sketchier south side dispensary. Note the lack of business name on the sign and the storefront. This dispensary is less than a block away from 420 Solutions. Photo by Alexander Smith

A south side dispensary. Note the lack of business name on the sign and the storefront. This dispensary is less than a block away from 420 Solutions. Photo by Alexander Smith

David Womboldt, south side resident and member of Rejuvenating South Lansing, worries that lax regulation and no cap could infringe on residents who have no need for dispensaries.

“Medical marijuana users do not have more rights than I do,” said Womboldt. “Any legislation…should certainly consider the rights of non-users.”

Laura Ann Reese, Michigan State University professor and expert on public policy, agreed.

“I think it’s an issue of how many there are,” said Reese. “If there’s one in an area, and it’s not near a school … it’s not an issue. If there are five, then that could cause some problems.”

Abood said the City Attorney’s office is working with other city departments to study the number, present location, and possible future locations of dispensaries in Lansing. Wood asked Abood to bring the information to the next public safety meeting on Feb. 26 to talk about drafting a more enforceable ordinance.

“We have looked at Port Huron, we have looked at Detroit, we have looked at proposed model ordinances,” said Abood. “We have a lot of ideas of our own. We are still in the process of looking at the needs of our city specifically. We will be happy to discuss it in two weeks.”

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