May 24 2017 11:51 PM

With Bernero voicing his opposition, a split Council readies to consider ordinance

“Let the games begin.” That’s how 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton characterized the coming battle over a controversial ordinance to regulate Lansing’s booming medical marijuana industry.

Those games begin June 12, when the Council will spend a Committee of the Whole meeting applying a fine-tooth comb to draft 6d of the ordinance, which is being criticized by medical marijuana advocates and the mayor as too restrictive.

“The latest ordinance draft is a draconian, Nixonian attempt to crush the medical marijuana industry in Lansing before it ever gets off the ground,” Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero said by email.

“The ordinance completely ignores the Planning Board recommendation that called for reasonable zoning standards for dispensaries,” he went on. “It imposes restrictions on growing, processing and testing companies that will drive this promising new industry out of the city altogether, which will cost Lansing hundreds if not thousands of jobs and severely damage the potential for new revenues that the city could use to fix potholes and support essential services like police and fire protection.”

That draft is not much different from an earlier one reviewed by City Pulse that found that zoning restrictions would eliminate five of every six existing marijuana dispensaries in the city. The survey found at least 60 dispensaries.

3rd Ward Councilman Adam Hussain, who chairs the committee that drafted the ordinance, questioned the administration’s last-minute interest and criticisms.

“They have had absolutely no presence at any of our meetings, have not been in the community engaging the folks that actually live in Lansing,” Hussain wrote via Facebook. He added they have never called him or At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood, who previously chaired the Public Safety Committee, to discuss their concerns.

“Now they want to be involved. It’s been 17 months. The Public Safety Committee has now moved this ordinance forward two different times. Give me a break.”

Wood, Hussain and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton voted unanimously last week to move the ordinance to the full Council.

But a move Monday night by Judi Brown Clarke, a mayoral candidate and current At-Large councilwoman, delayed a proposed June 26 public hearing. She tried to move the ordinance into the Planning and Development Committee, which she chairs.

“This committee has always reviewed zoning regulations,” she said. “I don’t see how this is any different.”

In a compromise reached on the dais Monday night, Hussain withdrew the motion for a public hearing date and agreed instead to the June 12 Committee of the Whole meeting to review and return it to his committee to consider recommendations. That likely pushes a public hearing to mid-July.

Wood criticized the mayoral candidate for failing to raise the issue of taking up the ordinance in her committee until now.

Hussain said concerns about reviewing the ordinance in another committee did not surface until “the last couple of weeks.” He finds that suspect.

“They knew we were looking at the zoning,” he said. “They knew we were looking at licensing.”

Indeed the process that has dragged on for 17 months included an aborted attempt to move the ordinance forward that died when City Attorney Jim Smiertka asked the Planning Board to table a review and discussion of the ordinance for 60 days last fall.

Despite the delays and the friction between Council members, all agree something will be passed before the end of the year.

“There will an ordinance,” said Councilwoman At-Large Kathie Dunbar, a critic of the proposed ordinance. “Not this ordinance, but an ordinance.”

Council President Patricia Spitzley said she was “frustrated” and “not happy” aboutthe move to delay a public hearing on the current draft of the ordinance.

“We’ve been kicking this thing down the road forever,” she said. “At what point do you put it out there for public comment? It’s time.”

Her promise: “If I only get one thing done as Council president, it will be a medical marijuana ordinance.”