Jan. 14 2011 12:00 AM

The East Lansing Planning Commission recommends approval of an ordinance to allow medical marijuana dispensaries

This story was updated Jan. 15.

Friday, Jan. 14 — The East Lansing Planning Commission has recommended liberalizing a proposed ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries.

The commission recommends allowing dispensaries in certain parts of the city, but first businesses would need a special use permit and a license from the city clerk to do so.

A moratorium on dispensaries in East Lansing has been in place since August.

The nine-member commission recommended keeping a restriction that dispensaries be at least 1,000 feet from any school or church, except for downtown. The commission said they could operate within 500 feet of churches and schools downtown.

The commission agreed with language in the proposed ordinance that dispensaries may operate within 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. and that they could not be in a “residential establishment.”

The nine-member commission recommended amending the proposed ordinance to allow dispensaries in three zoning districts: A “B-3” zone downtown and the “B-4” and “B-5” zoning districts, which includes the Coolidge/Lake Lansing roads and Coolidge Road/Saginaw Street areas, Commissioner Bill Hartwig said. The ordinance had called for restricting dispensaries to downtown only.

“People that have a need for medical marijuana aren’t just in the downtown area,” Hartwig said. “If we had dispensaries scattered around the city, it would make it more convenient for people to obtain medical marijuana.”

The proposed ordinance also says only two qualified patients can be in a dispensary at one time and no more than two caregivers could operate a business. The commission recommended changing that to an unlimited number of patients and caregivers.

“We didn’t feel we should be dictating how many customers a business ought to have,” Hartwig said.

The commission also recommended that the East Lansing Police Department come up with a plan to put surveillance video cameras in the dispensaries.

Commissioner Thomas Morgan didn't agree with that recommendation.

"I felt that was placing an undue burden on businesses to have government intrusion," Morgan said. "It's kind of Big Brother-esque."

Hartwig and Morgan are unsure when the City Council will take up at the ordinance, but he said a public hearing will come before a vote.

The Planning Commission has been studying three proposed ordinances that deal with medical marijuana. Only one of them, which it recommends the Council adopt, allows dispensaries.

The other two proposed ordinances deal with regulating home-based caregivers. One allows for them in residential areas with certain zoning restrictions, while the other restricts home-based and dispensary-type businesses.