Nov. 30 2010 12:00 AM

Not all Lansing City Council members on board with a medical marijuana moratorium

Tuesday, Nov. 30 — It sure took a long discussion to set a date for a discussion at Monday’s Lansing City Council meeting.

That’s because Council Vice President Kathie Dunbar and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko expressed their opposition to the proposed medical marijuana moratorium. Despite the 6-2 vote, a public hearing will be held Dec. 6 to allow the public to weigh in on the ordinance.

While Dunbar agrees with the idea of licensing these businesses, she said that’s the task at hand — not banning them in the meantime.

Click here for City Pulse’s directory of medical marijuana businesses in the region.

Before the Council meeting, a last-minute change to the proposed moratorium extended the life of it from up to 90 days to up to one year. The moratorium is on medical marijuana establishments, which are defined as “any nonresidential land use involving the growth, distribution, storage, or use” of marijuana.

The ordinance also lists 17 businesses in the city that would be grandfathered in. Any other business that is operating or looking to open before Dec. 6 will have to identify itself to the City Attorney’s office.

Dunbar said the definition of an establishment is too broad for her and could potentially drive business into residential areas.

“You’re going to end up with more of these dispensaries being home-based,” she said. “If you limit their access, you’re pushing more distribution into the neighborhoods.”

Dunbar added: “I don’t understand the motivation (for a moratorium). What happened at these establishments that they need to be stopped?”

Her point was that instead of putting a moratorium on these businesses, get right into licensing them as such so as not to restrict future legitimate business. She also disputed the public safety claims that these places are dangerous.

“It is because someone got robbed? That’s why it’s an issue? A bank down the street from my house got robbed and we didn’t put a moratorium on banks,” she said. “Is it because of the fluorescent pot leaf signs? Then regulate the signage.”

Even Finance Director Jerry Ambrose, who speaks for the administration, sided with Dunbar.

“Time would be better spent putting licenses together. We are also concerned it will move business into the neighborhoods,” Ambrose said.

Yorko took issue with the fact that the moratorium could last up to a year based on “correspondence she has received from constituents.”

While it’s unclear how the actual vote on the moratorium will go, At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood, who chairs the Public Safety Committee that worked on the ordinance, said the process for drafting an ordinance to regulate dispensaries has been lengthy and will continue to be so. She said she started crafting legislation in February.

City Attorney Brig Smith said it has taken so long to put a moratorium on dispensaries because it’s been difficult to define what they are. There is also still “big picture” questions remaining, even with a moratorium, he said.

“(Municipalities) are grappling with the big picture issue: What do you do on a permanent basis?” Smith said.

As for a moratorium: “It still doesn’t resolve our question of, ‘What is a dispensary?’”

First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt, whose ward contains what he says his constituents call “Mary Jane Avenue” (instead of Michigan Avenue), said the issue is the “absolute number, so close together.”

He supports a moratorium. “We can change (the regulations) later. First let’s get it (a moratorium) in place so we don’t have 40, 50, 60 establishments we have to grapple with.”

Five members of the public spoke on the proposed ordinance. Three supported the notion of a moratorium until regulations are in place for businesses, but each of them had concerns a moratorium would simply stall the process of regulating legitimate businesses.

“I understand dispensaries are growing quickly — it’s probably a good idea to set up some rules,” Robin Schneider, owner of Capitol City Compassion Club, said. “I would like to think an ordinance (to regulate) can be put in place in less than a year.”

Schneider also took issue with the fact that a medical marijuana establishment, as defined in the ordinance, could include a facility where cannabis is simply grown, not dispensed.

Smith acknowledged that would be “something I’d want to think about,” before a potential moratorium is passed.

In other business, the Council unanimously approved a resolution for an entertainment permit for the Soup Spoon Caf, 1419 and 1421 E. Michigan Ave. Owners have expressed an interest in hosting “some sort of jazz ensemble,” Second Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton said.