Feb. 16 2011 12:00 AM

The East Lansing City Council punts on regulating medical marijuana dispensaries … sort of

Wednesday, Feb. 16 — The East Lansing City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to take another month to discuss possible medical marijuana dispensary regulations in the city, thus extending a moratorium on the businesses for another 90 days.

However, the Council — which had been deliberating over three possible business regulation ordinances — threw out two potential means of regulating.

Proposed ordinances 1245A, 1245B and 1245C offer three different ways to regulate medical marijuana in East Lansing. “A” would have allowed home-based businesses to operate, but not commercial storefronts. “C” would allow commercial storefronts in certain zones but not home-based businesses. “B” would have banned both forms of business.

After a public hearing on the proposed ordinances, the five voting members — including Mayor Vic Loomis and Mayor Pro-Tem Diane Goddeeris — voted unanimously to throw out proposed ordinances A and B.

While the Council voted to take another month to discuss C and extend the moratorium on businesses, it appears that it’s not a matter of if East Lansing will have dispensaries, but when.

“The best course would be to dispose of 1245A and B,” Councilman Nathan Triplett said, based on feedback from the public and a recommendation from the city Planning Commission.

Goddeeris said that while the Council extended the moratorium, throwing out the other two versions is good progress.

“We are making progress. I’m sorry people don’t see that out there,” she said.

The East Lansing Planning Commission recommended last month that the Council adopt 1245C. However, the proposed ordinance has had quite an evolution since it was first introduced months ago.

The latest version of 1245C would allow commercial entities to operate only within B-4 zoning districts, or “restricted office business” areas. B-4 zones dot the city and are generally limited to office buildings and banks. Downtown East Lansing around Grand River and Albert avenues includes no B-4 zoning. However, Goddeeris said the largest amount of commercial properties in the city is in B-4 zones.

Businesses would need an annual license from the city clerk to operate. Those fees will be determined by the City Council in the future.

The proposed 16-page ordinance defines dispensaries as “two or more primary caregivers growing medical marihuana in the same building, structure or lot, storing medical marijuana in the same building, structure or lot, or delivering, transferring, or providing qualifying patients with Medical Marihuana out of the same building or lot.”

Dispensaries can’t be within 500 feet of each other and also must be at least 1,000 feet from schools or childcare centers. Stores must also be equipped with surveillance cameras. The ordinance also specifically bans drive-through dispensaries.

Councilman Roger Peters said he doesn’t like all aspects of 1245C, “but that’s the direction I’m going,” he said, referring to regulating commercial businesses.

Before the Council’s vote, nine citizens — not all East Lansing residents — spoke during public comment. Three men representing the Pinecrest Neighborhood Association and one East Lansing resident supported a moratorium extension, while the other five supported regulating commercial storefronts.

“This is an example of public policy gone mad,” Donald Power said in reference to the 2008 ballot proposal approved by 63 percent of Michigan voters. Power supports the 90-day moratorium extension. “There are several legal challenges out there (related to dispensaries) — let’s see where they go.”

Three of five citizens who supported the commercial regulation ordinance had concerns about the B-4 only zoning provision in the latest draft of 1245C. They feel dispensaries should be allowed in more areas of the city, including downtown.

Jonathan Beagley, a Michigan State University student representing the group Students for Sensible Drug Policy, supports 1245C but thinks the B-4 zoning only would be prohibitive. “We are concerned the B-4 zoning district will not allow for safe access,” he said.

Jeff Hank, a Division Street resident, echoed Beagley.

“B-4 zoning is exclusive. You’re going to invite litigation by doing that,” Hank said. However, he urged the Council to adopt the ordinance allowing storefronts. “We have to stop the black market here. Take a stand. Be progressive.”

The Council will revisit the proposed ordinance at its March 15 meeting. The Council can also vote to lift the 90-day moratorium if it decides to adopt 1245C within 90 days.