March 18 2013 12:00 AM

‘Lansterdam,’ a board recommendation, the mayor’s dispensary ordinance and perhaps futile cries for a moratorium extension culminate days before City Council votes on a medical marijuana dispensary ordinance

Jim Herbert, CEO of Neogen, speaks at a press conference today calling on a moratorium extension. Andy Balaskovitz/City Pulse
Friday, June 24 — In the week leading up to the Lansing City Council’s scheduled vote Monday on the proposed medical marijuana dispensary ordinance, a group of concerned business owners and neighborhood groups have rallied in opposition to proposed dispensary regulations, calling for tougher rules in attempts to limit the number of dispensaries in the city.

One prominent business leader is taking aim at the number of dispensaries in Lansing, calling it “embarrassing.”

And the city’s Planning Board, a citizen advisory board that makes non-binding policy recommendations to the Council, voted unanimously Thursday rejecting the dispensary rules.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana dispensary owners are largely comfortable with the rules Council has before it and say any claims that dispensaries are having a negative impact on the city are false. And remember when the mayor presented his idea of dispensary regulations, which would have allowed them in more areas of the city but would have required them to come into compliance within a year?

On Monday, the Council’s Public Safety Committee will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. to discuss the Planning Board’s recommendation. The full Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance during its meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. It’s the last scheduled meeting before the expiration on Friday of the ordinance that declared a moratorium on new dispensaries.

In front of the Cooley Law School Stadium today, neighborhood group leaders and Neogen CEO and board chairman Jim Herbert called upon the City Council to extend the moratorium.

But from City Attorney Brig Smith’s perspective, that’s unlikely.

“At this point, our assessment remains that it is legally impractical, if not impossible, to extend the moratorium now that we are past the eleventh hour. We continue to review the matter, but in the meantime continue to advise that the safest approach is finalizing the permanent ordinance rather than extending the temporary one,” Smith said today in an e-mail.

Smith said Thursday that the ramifications of the Council’s not adopting an ordinance Monday — coupled with not being able to extend the moratorium — are serious and that the race to open up dispensaries unregulated again would take Lansing back to the “wild west.”

Members of the neighborhood-led Coalition for a Closer Look at the Medical Marihuana Dispensary Ordinance, including Rick Kibbey, Melissa Quon-Huber, 3rd Ward City Council candidate Jason Wilkes and 1st Ward City Council candidate Jody Washington — were in attendance today. However, Joan Nelson, director of the Allen Neighborhood Center who has been instrumental in the coalition, was absent.

Here’s what’s in the draft ordinance:

  • Dispensaries would be allowed to operate in one commercial zone (F-1) and industrially zoned areas of the city.

  • Dispensaries would have to be 1,000 feet from each other, schools, playgrounds, churches, child care organizations and substance abuse treatment facilities and 100 feet from youth centers, public swimming pools or a video arcade facility.

  • Dispensaries would have to obtain a license to operate, issued through the City Clerk’s Office.

  • Existing dispensaries would have to apply for a license but would be grandfathered in if its present location does not meet the zoning requirements.

  • Applicants could be individuals, corporations or limited liability companies. Licenses would be non-transferable and must be re-applied for if the individual owner changes or if every stakeholder or board member leaves from a corporation or an LLC.

  • A license would not be granted if the applicant or any stakeholder has been convicted of a drug-related felony in the past seven years.

  • Consumption onsite would be allowed only for “instructional purposes.”

  • Growing and dispensing cannabis would allowed at businesses, but applicants would have to specify which of the two, or both, it is doing.

  • Hours of operation would be restricted to between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

  • Drive-through windows would be allowed if they were part of the building’s original site plan.

Mayor Virg Bernero in May requested a draft ordinance that reflects his views on dispensary regulations from the City Attorney’s Office. Bernero’s office did not respond to requests for comment this week on whether the Council should extend the moratorium.

Bernero spoke publicly on his views at a June 13 City Council meeting in which he referred to his draft ordinance reflecting his ideas. He said then that he was against the moratorium all along but agreed there needs to be “a more orderly system,” he said.

Bernero told City Pulse in a December interview that a moratorium was “Nixonian,” “absolute nonsense” and “an attempt to thwart the will of the voters.”

Bernero’s ordinance would allow businesses in all commercially zoned properties in the city — including downtown — but keep the 1,000-foot buffering requirements from churches, schools, rehabilitation centers and child care facilities. Bernero’s ordinance would also require businesses to be 500 feet from each other, rather than 1,000 feet, as is proposed in the ordinance before Council. However, existing businesses that don’t meet his requirements would have up to a year to come into compliance. Bernero’s ordinance, too, would establish a licensing process.

Based on the City Charter, Bernero can have ordinances drafted and he can recommend them to Council members, but he can’t introduce ordinances for adoption.

Since the Council’s meeting Monday night, medical marijuana dispensaries have taken a public, verbal beating from Neogen’s Herbert, who has been calling the city “Lansterdam” and conjuring memories of pornography stores on Michigan Avenue, where 11 of the city’s 41 dispensaries operate.

Amsterdam is the capital city of the Netherlands with a metro population of nearly 2.2 million people and known for its historic architecture, river canals and coffee shops where cannabis smoking is permitted by local police.

That’s a negative for Herbert, who arranged for Truscott Rossman public relations to represent what spokesman Josh Hovey called a coalition of business owners seeking more stringent regulations — no other business owners spoke at today’s press conference, however.

“I was in Amsterdam Monday,” Herbert said at today’s press conference where he was joined by neighborhood group leaders to call for a moratorium extension. “I guarantee I don’t want this city to look like Amsterdam.”

Herbert also said he was “embarrassed” by dispensaries while he had clients in town from “six countries.”

“As they traveled the corridor I was embarrassed by medical marijuana signs along the street and I think they (clients) were embarrassed for us,” he said.

Dispensary owners along Michigan Avenue are wondering: What’s wrong with Amsterdam? They also say their businesses should be compared with the empty storefronts that existed there before them, not pornography shops.

“I’ve been there (Amsterdam) twice, once for 10 days and once for seven,” said Ryan Basore, co-owner of Capital City Caregivers, 2208 E. Michigan Ave. “They don’t have the prescription pill problem we have here in America. It’s a beautiful city. Unbelievable.”

Top Shelf Budz, 1723 E. Michigan Ave., has been open since early December, just before the moratorium took effect. It sells t-shirts with a map of Michigan and a cannabis leaf over Lansing. The shirts say “Lansterdam” and “Michuanna” on them.

“Obviously it’s good for the city,” said owner Steve Joseph. “It’s good for the economy. All these buildings once were empty and now they’re occupied.”

Joseph said some of the 41 businesses will “fall by the wayside by attrition. I don’t want to see it but if it happens it happens.”

Herbert also said on “City Pulse on the Air” Wednesday that he has concerns about the “clientele” who frequent dispensaries. He said: I’m not saying anything about the character of the people in this for profit. But I do see what their clientele looks like.”

In response, Basore said,“Our patients’ and members’ average age is 45. Some people look a lot like him (Herbert)” Basore said. “The fact that he doesn’t like sick patients getting medicine, that’s about as discriminatory as I have ever heard.”

(Herbert said on the program he has no problem with the legitimate use of medical marijuana. But he said he has heard that medical marijuana cards, which are issued by the state, are being counterfeited and sold for $25 each.)

When asked in an interview if he thought dispensaries are better than vacant storefronts and a sign of economic development, Herbert said: “This is not economic development. This (medical marijuana) is not about jobs. Somehow your paper and other people want to make this into economic development.”

So, you don’t like the advertisements in the back pages of City Pulse? “No,” Herbert responded.

Other business
In other Council business Monday, the Council is scheduled to vote on approving Neighborhood Enterprise Zone certificates for 23 properties in the East Village neighborhood on Lansing’s east side. NEZs offer homeowners a 50 percent property tax abatement for 12 years.

The Council is also scheduled to vote on setting a public hearing for July 18 on this past winter’s snow and ice removal assessments.

Under the new ordinance that was adopted in September, residents are responsible for clearing snow and ice from sidewalks in front of their properties. If it is not cleared within 24 hours of a “snow event,” the city mails out notices that residents must clear the snow within 24 hours after being notified and the city will do it and add the bill to the resident’s tax roll.

Between Oct. 1 and April 1, it cost the city $21,337.38 to clear snow and ice as it issued 173 assessments. Some properties received mulitiple assessments.

The Council will also vote on adopting the most recent version of the Michigan Mechanical Code, or comprehensive guidelines on various construction regulations municipalities must follow.