Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero may as well be called Mayorajuana, given his outspoken support for legalization — even though he claims never to have had even a puff. Bernero’s policy has been to “normalize” marijuana whenever possible, which he explains in this interview, conducted by Berl Schwartz on the TV show “City Pulse Newsmakers.” Bernero also makes it clear he wants to finish the regulatory process before he voluntarily leaves on Dec. 31.
You’ve said the proposed ordinance is going in exactly the opposite direction. What do you mean?
There are forces in the city that want to return to the bad old days — strong forces. I used to call them Nixonian, law and order Puritanical Republicans. Maybe they are Trumpian — Nixonian but Trumpian — because (U.S. Attorney Gen. Jeff) Sessions has said marijuana is right there with heroin in its awfulness. [Editor’s note. Bernero was close. Sessions said marijuana is “only slightly less awful” than heroin and produces “life-wrecking dependency.”] Every week when the Cabinet gets together, the fire and police chiefs report on heroin overdoses, how many were there, how many cases did we dispatch Narcan, and how many fatalities. And every week I ask how many marijuana overdoses. Somewhat I do it for comic relief, but also to get this out of the chief: Zero, zero marijuana deaths.
But there are who cannot stand the fact that we have essentially in Lansing normalized medical marijuana. We have normalized the distribution, supply, purchase of medical marijuana. The state passed the law, the public initiated it, the state facilitated it with state medical marijuana cards, and we have normalized medical marijuana distribution. Crime is down, despite their best efforts to try to reinvent that. I think statistically banks and credit unions get knocked off more than dispensaries.
Are there too many dispensaries? That’s a subject of debate. Are they too clustered. In my view, yes. That’s a zoning issue that needs to be addressed in the ordinance. Adam (Hussain, who chairs the Council committee that is crafting the ordinance), Jody’s son, is not serious about fixing it. I think they’ve decided they want to drag this out through the election because they’ve decided the people who are up for election — which is not them, not Jody, not her son, not Carol — they’ve decided that it might work negatively against some of the incumbents so they want deliberately to take longer. Before they wanted to move very quickly.
They’re trying to go back to the old way. They want to push it underground, which does not work. We want to bring it into the light, regulate it, fix the clustering, fix the problems, and as you know, we are trying to fix the problems of the home-grow operation, a significant problem the Legislature failed to deal with. We want to move to a system where we can move the production out of homes, where it does not belong, anything over a few plants. The idea of 72 plants in the home is insane, but that’s what the state law allows. We’re trying to move that into a commercialized, industrial grow, put it into an industrial park. And we have places in Lansing where that could happen. Where you could have large-scale, professional production so you’d have production of medibles and edibles. This is a hundreds-of-million-dollar operation that could be headquartered in Lansing.
Is Lansing prepare to take advantage of the legalization, which could come as soon as next year?
Lansing has a tremendous opportunity to set the standard for what this industry should be. That’s what I am trying to create in this ordinance. We have a tremendous opportunity to again further facilitate the normalization of marijuana and do it right and professionalize it, get it out of the neighborhoods. Stop the clustering, have a legitimate debate about how many does Lansing need, but market forces will determine that. Basically with zoning you can fix most of that, but you don’t do exclusionary zoning, you don’t make it so there can only be three or something, but you make it so they are going to be in the appropriate places. And the commercial grows are a different operation than dispensaries. They’re trying to make the production facilities subject to the same regulations as retail. That’s ridiculous. We’ve always separated that out. We’ve always looked at production as one thing and retail as another, and that must be preserved in the ordinance.
I hope we get it right. this is one thing I’d really to have done. And the people running for mayor ought to want us to get this done because if I were coming in as a new mayor, I wouldn’t want to have to work on crafting this, I’d just want to implement it.