Future uncertain for marijuana in East Lansing

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As an initiative for recreational marijuana makes its way onto Michigan’s November ballot, city leaders, corporate interests and citizens are far from decided regarding its future in East Lansing.

At a recent, discussion-only city council meeting, a representative from the company Weedmaps laid out one vision for East Lansing’s future with marijuana. The company recommended a dispensary for every 7,500 residents in the city, about seven in total for the city.

“It’s incredibly important for our company’s survival, but more importantly for the cannabis industry and for patients to have access to their medication,” said Kelli Hykes, a spokeswoman for the company.

Weedmaps, which claims to be the oldest marijuana tech company, runs a phone app that promotes local dispensaries and makes revenue from advertisers. The company based in Irvine, California, does not deal with cannabis. But it has a lot to gain from the industry’s growth. Its app is already used in most communities where there are dispensaries, including Lansing.

Attis Trading provisioning center in South Portland, Oregon. Photo provided by Weedmaps.

Although many Michigan communities are willing to allow the growth and transport of the plant, few are zoning to allow provisioning centers in the city, Hykes said. This lack of initiative hurts patients and legal users of marijuana the most.

“They’re willing to support the growth and manufacturing of the product, but few have come aboard to allow provisioning centers,” Hykes said. “That’s the most important place for this to work. If that product doesn’t have a place to go, then patients don’t have access.”

City councilmembers are not yet sold on the plan. Although East Lansing already allows for marijuana growing and processing facilities, several members are still undecided about  marijuana’s future.

Mark Meadows, East Lansing’s mayor, said the city is considering a cap to the number of provisioning centers and  zoning rules. The mayor said that allowing too many dispensaries to open could lead to putting dispensaries possibly in near-bankrupt situations.

“How many could fail?” Meadows asked.

Coming up with the specifics could take time, Meadows said.

“Nobody’s dragging their feet, we’re trying to find out what’s the right thing to do for East Lansing.”

The city’s strategy stands in contrast to that of Lansing which at first allowed a nearly limitless number of dispensaries, with as many as 80 dispensaries operating at one time. Then in 2017, Lansing  limited dispensaries to 25, spelling possible doom for more than two-thirds of the city’s operating dispensaries.

Some East Lansing residents, however, are frustrated by the council’s indecision and possibly restrictive regulation. Attorney Jeff Hank, a local marijuana activist, wrote in an email he is unhappy with council’s approach to marijuana regulation. Regulation of the plant harms local business, he said.

The bad idea of capping provisioning centers is typical East Lansing cronyism and anti-free market attitude,” Hank said. “I expect the cap… if they do it, to lead to attempts to game the system, and invite corruption and cronyism into the process, which is why East Lansing has such a poor reputation as anti-business and unwelcoming to anyone but those with insider political connections to begin with.”

If the council does not limit its marijuana regulation, Hank said, he will launch a city-wide ballot initiative to pass a “better, more reasonable” ordinance. The attorney has history to back him up. Hank ran the successful East Lansing ballot initiative to decriminalize marijuana in 2015.

All parties are looking forward to November, however, when polling shows recreational marijuana likely to be legalized in the state.  Weedmaps often advise cities when they write marijuana ordinances, and Hykes said her company ensures language ensures an easy transition to recreational use if necessary.

“When we advocate for certain language,” said Hykes, “it’s language that would make it relatively easy to strike medical and move everything over to medical and adult use.”

The mayor said he also expected recreational pot to be legalized sometime soon and the city will take steps to ensure it is ready for the change.

“What we are creating is a system of provisioning centers that is not just limited to medical marijuana,” Meadows said. “As I start to think about it, maybe medical marijuana becomes irrelevant because anybody will be able to go to a provisioning center to get recreational marijuana and use it for the same purpose.”

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