April 19 2017 03:33 PM

Lansing’s reefer madness approach shortsighted as state moves rapidly toward legalization

Berl Schwartz

What if Lansing hadn’t embraced the automotive industry?

It’s not so farfetched. After all, who wants those dirty, noisy cars running through our quiet town? Pedestrians will get hurt. Stick with horses.

But people wanted cars, and fortunately Lansing had a forward-thinking attitude — or at least a laizzez-faire one. And it fought to keep GM when in the 1990s the auto giant was going to pull out.

Lansing is at a crossroads right now when it comes to marijuana. Recreational marijuana is coming to Michigan, almost certainly next year, but we are nowhere close to being ready to get our share of this multi-billion-dollar boom.

Our business leaders and politicians are letting us down, as our reporting in these pages shows. Business leaders are either opposed to capitalizing on this opportunity or haven’t given it sufficient thought. Politicians are trying to balance the future against constituents with a reefer madness mentality who would kill the marijuana business in Lansing if they could. Our likely future mayor, Andy Schor, has a wishywashy stance. And the marijuana business community is so afraid of being put out of business that it has failed to use its considerable resources to make a stink.

The goal of this special section is to generate a serious discussion about the choices facing Lansing over marijuana before it is too late, which it almost is.

I say that because the Public Safety Committee of the Lansing City Council is close to finishing an ordinance that will do great damage to the medical marijuana business. But even worse, it will set the tone for how we will deal with recreational marijuana. If they can’t accept medical marijuana, they're going to like recreational even less.

The mere fact that medical marijuana is being dealt with by a committee called Public Safety says a lot. This issue ought to be in Development and Planning. And instead of a bias toward gutting medical marijuana, as is evident in the Public Safety Committee, the emphasis should be on how to maximize the potential of a great economic opportunity.

I hope you’ll take the time to look at the map on pages 18 and 19. It shows how many dispensaries will survive — or more to the point, will not survive. Five out of six will be put out of business. That’s 54 out of 62 job-producing businesses, many occupying formerly empty buildings, many in the south end, where development is struggling.

Under the leadership of Councilmembers Adam Hussain and Carol Wood, the opponents of marijuana have gotten the upper hand. They look at marijuana as a vice, and Hussain and Wood are enabling them. The two of them display a heartless disregard for the entrepreneurial efforts of business owners.

They will say businesses can simply move to areas that wouldn’t be off limits to dispensaries. Spoken like people who have never run a brick-and-mortar operation and who don’t seem to have any regard for capitalism. Many dispensaries have sunk a lot of resources into improving properties in areas of town where they have decent visibility. Case in point: Michigan Avenue. Not a single dispensary would be allowed.

Moreover, Hussain and Wood want to ghettoize dispensaries on the far north and south ends of the city. They say there are hundreds of properties available — but that’s not really true. Dispensaries under their ordinance can’t be within 500 feet of each other. And how many of those properties are appropriate for retail operations that are not already occupied?

Who are they to say how many dispensaries Lansing should have? There’s no magic number. Critics say we don’t want the Wild West, but sometimes that is what it takes while capitalism figures out what works. I could fill a lot of space with the names of automobiles that no longer exist.

Our outgoing mayor, Virg Bernero, has a good handle on the current lay of the land.

“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,” he told me on our TV show last week. (You can see it at lansingcitypulse.com.)

Added Bernero: “They’re trying to go back to the old way. They want to push it underground, which does not work.”

A final note: This special section has been costly. We’ve never called on readers to support us before, but we hope you will help now. We are conducting a crowdsourcing campaign at GoFundMe. com/citypulse. If you think our effort is worthy, then I hope you will send us a contribution. Or just mail us a check at City Pulse, 1905 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing. Skip buying a gram and send us $10. Thanks.