March 30 2011 12:00 AM

Questions arise over the operation of four medical marijuana dispensaries in Lansing

One medical marijuana dispensary in Lansing appears to be operating without the city’s approval, and three more may be in trouble if the City Council adopts a revised moratorium ordinance.

S S Collectives, 1242 E. Grand River Ave., has been open for nearly two months, according to a manager, but evidently never registered with the city.

The other three are not on the revised list of dispensaries that the City Council is considering.

Two did not respond to a letter from the City Clerk’s Office seeking more information about them. The third moved after the moratorium took effect, which the city attorney said isn’t allowed.

Dispensaries were supposed to register with the city before the Council approved a six-month moratorium on Dec. 6.

The city is in the process of cleaning up its moratorium ordinance. The moratorium included a list of 67 addresses at which dispensaries were allowed to operate, although the actual number of those operating is closer to 40, according to City Pulse’s online directory.

An S S Collectives employee said last week it is owned by Andy Simmons, who also owns Green Leaf, a dispensary in Williamstown Township. Simmons could not be reached for comment.

Matt Newberg, a local attorney who specializes in medical marijuana, said S S can either try to prove it was established before Dec. 6, comply with a cease and desist order if one is ordered, or take the matter to Circuit Court.

The moratorium is set to expire on July 1. It defines a “medical marihuana establishment” as any “nonresidential land use involving the growth, distribution, storage, or use of marihuana.”

City Clerk Chris Swope said any business not included in the revised moratorium will be told to close unless it proves it was in operation before Dec. 6 or returns the requested information.

One of the other three dispensaries that may be in trouble is the Michigan Medical Marijuana Club, 6046 S. Cedar St. It moved from 3203 N. East St. to its present location about two weeks after the Lansing City Council passed the moratorium at its Dec. 6 meeting.

City Attorney Brig Smith said that once the original moratorium passed, businesses had to stay put.

“The whole point (of the moratorium) is to freeze the status quo,” Smith said, adding that there can be “no new addresses” included in the list unless a business could prove it was open at that address before Dec. 6.

Todd Holforty, president of the club, said Swope told him in mid-December that the moratorium says nothing about moving locations. Holforty said Swope’s office told him in January that the interpretation had changed.

But where does that leave Holforty, who said the business moved because his landlord wouldn’t fix handicap accessibility issues?

“We moved when it wasn’t the interpretation,” Holforty said. “If we have to go to court I don’t think they have anything to stand on (to shut the club down). I hope it doesn’t come to that (court). But we will if we have to.”

Smith did not know specifically about the Michigan Medical Marijuana Club’s situation and said his focus is on completing a permanent ordinance to regulate dispensaries.

“If we get complaints or concerns, we will investigate,” Smith said. “The biggest priority is moving forward with a permanent ordinance.”

The other dispensaries are Relief Choices of Lansing, 2617 E. Michigan Ave., and Grand River Alternative Medicine Services (GRAMS), 711 E. Grand River Ave., which were both on the original list but not on the list that was updated by the clerk’s office and approved by the Council’s Public Safety Committee.

Stephen Rybinski, an employee at Relief Choices, said he “wasn’t aware” the city was updating its moratorium and evidently didn’t get the mailing asking to confirm its existence.

“We were one of the first in town. I’m pretty sure we’re grandfathered in,” he said. “We didn’t receive the mailing.”

While signs outside of GRAMS still advertise for “medical marijuana, medibles and doctor certification,” no one answered the door during business hours on Friday and Monday and the phone is no longer in service.

There are at least 38 “medical marihuana establishments” open for business within the city limits.

After the Council adopted the moratorium, six businesses gave addresses in areas zoned residential, where dispensaries are banned from operating under an earlier ordinance. While none appear to be actually operating in residential areas, it prompted the City Clerk’s Office to send mailings in late February to each address seeking more information about each business.

Swope said if there was no response to the mailings, it was assumed they were not in operation, which helped shrink the list to 40 from the original 67. A few others asked to be taken off.

A public hearing is scheduled for the April 11 Lansing City Council meeting, which will allow the public to speak on the proposed revisions. If there are any issues, it gives businesses some time to make good with the city.

“They should contact the clerk’s office as soon as possible and respond to the mailing,” Swope said.