May 18 2011 12:00 AM

How Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero envisions commercial medical marijuana activity

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, who spoke out
last week against a proposed ordinance that would make most of
Lansing’s medical marijuana dispensaries move, has offered an ordinance
of his own that would allow dispensaries to open in various commercially
and industrially zoned areas of the city as long as they are at least
500 feet apart.

Under Bernero’s proposal, dispensaries
would be allowed in professional office, local shopping, commercial,
business, wholesale and industrially zoned areas of the city.
Information from the City Clerk’s Office indicates that two of the 41
dispensaries are not in those zones.

But a major component of Bernero’s
proposal says that any existing businesses that don’t comply with zoning
requirements have up to a year to move, Deputy Chief of Staff Randy
Hannan said.

“The intent is that businesses currently in operation would have a year to come into compliance with the ordinance,” he said.

Hannan could not comment on how to decide
which business would have to move if two of them are within 500 feet of
each other. City Attorney Brig Smith, whose office drafted the
ordinance, could not be reached for comment.

An ordinance surfaced at a May 5 Public
Safety Committee meeting — which was drafted by the City Attorney’s
Office with input from Councilwoman Carol Wood — that proposes to limit
medical marijuana dispensaries to industrially zoned areas of the city
and says nothing about grandfathering in 37 dispensaries that are not
located in those zones.

Bernero has said that he hopes City
Council members get behind his vision as it is discussed in committee.
Based on the City Charter, Bernero can have ordinances drafted and
present them to Council members, but he can’t introduce them to the full
Council for adoption.

Bernero’s plans “wouldn’t create one
section that says this is where all the medical marijuana is going to
be,” he said in an interview. “I think that’s the wrong way to go.”

trying to take a more reasoned approach. I’m hoping the Carol Wood
approach is rejected by the majority of the Council. I’m hoping we have
progressive voices on Council who are going to be heard,” Bernero said.
“Hers would create one area of the city (where medical marijuana could
be sold).”

Bernero said the public perception of medical marijuana and dispensaries needs to evolve.

“There are those that want to criminalize
any and all marijuana use. I think things are evolving. I hope we
recognize the damage we have caused with this just-say-no approach
involving marijuana — the criminals we’re creating and so on,” he said.
“I think those that say we want to put it in a certain section, we want
to keep it over here, I think they’re part of the problem. I’d rather
have it out of the shadows, out of the neighborhoods, out of the back
alleys and in a storefront where it can be regulated, inspected.”

When Bernero was asked about questions
surrounding the legality of dispensaries, he said that while he’s not a
lawyer, it seems like they should be allowed.

“Are dispensaries illegal? I don’t
understand how you can have medical marijuana as people voted for
without some system of growing and dispensing it,” he said. “It’s like
saying you can have soda pop but you have to make it at home.”