City considering a moratorium on marijuana dispensaries

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By Alex Smith
Listen Up Lansing Staff Reporter

Committee Chair Carol Wood, City Deputy Attorney Joseph Abood and Vice Chair Adam Hussain at the city public safety meeting. Photo by Alex Smith.

Committee Chair Carol Wood, City Deputy Attorney Joseph Abood and Vice Chair Adam Hussain at the city public safety meeting. Photo by Alex Smith.

Discussion on a new ordinance concerning marijuana dispensaries is slowly moving forward. The Lansing Committee on Public Safety met again on Feb. 26 with Deputy City Attorney Joseph Abood to discuss a moratorium on dispensaries.

This would not be the first time Lansing enacted a moratorium. The last time was after State of Michigan v. McQueen. The state Senate ruled patient-to-patient transfers illegal under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, and Lansing shut down any plans to license local dispensaries.

“Our public health code still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. The MMMA allows certain immunities of the use and transfer of medical marijuana,” said Abood. “And how does a city regulate the businesses, the retail sales of these transfers when now it is not allowed under the MMMA and against the law federally?”

Another moratorium would halt new dispensaries from sprouting up. The tricky part is figuring out what to do with the ones that already exist.

“There’s an art and a science to all of this,” said Abood. “The science is drafting an enforceable legislation. The art is determining who would be allowed to operate during the moratorium, and if you have two establishments that are too close to each other, which one would get the preference? There would be a lot of head-scratching over how we would implement such a system given where we are at today.”

Brian Hamilton, owner of two Puff-n-Stuff Medical Dispensaries in Lansing, said a new moratorium would be bad news for patients.

“There’s no need to shut down any provisional center in Lansing, no matter how many there are. Obviously there’s a demand for them,” said Hamilton. “Where do you think all these patients will go to get their medicine? They’re going to go back to the black market.”

Other dispensary representatives agree.

“They might not be able to grow, they might not be interested in growing,” said Mark Bessak of Got Meds Medical Marijuana Distributor. “People need access, and the longer we debate and point the finger, the patients are the ones that are hurting.”

Council Member Kathie Dunbar said safety and reasonable regulation are hard to balance.

“We had a shooting at a Rite-Aid,” said Dunbar. “We didn’t stop with Rite Aid, we didn’t say ‘No more Rite Aid.’ How do we balance the safety of [medical marijuana] not being in the neighborhoods and folks wanting it out on the boulevards and corridors, but then people don’t want too many?”

Another Got Meds representative, Mike Thomas, said the dispensary also has a lounge for patients who are incapable or not allowed to grow or use marijuana in their home. However, Dunbar said the lounge business model may do more harm than good for public perception.

“The lounge aspect I’m not in favor of,” said Dunbar. “The same way [people] say we are delegitimizing medical marijuana by limiting the amount available, I worry that creating a social aspect around medical distribution also delegitimizes it. That is a scenario that would exist in a recreationally available marijuana facility [which] we don’t have in the state of Michigan.”

City Council Member Patricia Spitzley has a stronger opinion about dispensaries that allow use on site.

“We’re not looking to shut down every facility in Lansing,” said Spitzley. “However, I am absolutely against [that] business model. Absolutely. I don’t think the MMMA was developed for [that].”

Robert Hess, an economics professor at Lansing Community College, said there is a place for regulation, at least for medical use.

“I think the big concern the city has is how do you monitor? Do we have enough people to make sure everyone coming in is legit? We need the government to clamp down if people are abusing [dispensaries],” said Hess. “But generally I say let the market decide.”

For now, dispensaries are still going unregulated, despite an ordinance passed in 2011. The Committee of Public Safety is meeting again Friday, March 18 at 3:30 p.m.

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