College Town Divided- What You Need to Know about East Lansing’s MMJ Market


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  • After much deliberation, East Lansing now has an ordinance allowing provisioning centers.
  • There are several issues with this dispensary ordinance including limited zoning and a ban of smokable and vapable products.
  • Though there are still issues to be ironed out, East Lansing’s marijuana industry is finally seeing progress.

October 16, 2016- East Lansing becomes one of the first cities in Michigan to decriminalize marijuana use for those over 21.  While that had no effect on state law at the time, it established East Lansing as one of the marijuana policy leaders in Michigan.  That being said, East Lansing’s current issue is troubling, the city council has been debating for months over the provisioning center problem.  

Proposed Provisioning Center Ordinance Finally Passed

After the October 30th downvote of a proposed ordinance to allow medical marijuana provisioning centers in East Lansing, the City Council was finally able to pass an ordinance on November 7th.  Here are the key

special use standards for provisioning centers:

  • The Establishment shall not cause or continue an undue concentration of similar uses in the neighborhood such that medical marijuana provisioning center facilities and paraphernalia trade become a dominant influence or feature in the district/neighborhood.
  • Hours of operation must be between 8 am and 9 pm.
  • No smokable or inhalable products may be sold.
  • No marijuana or marijuana-infused products may be visible from the exterior.
  • All product must be in locked containers or display cases unless being shown by a caregiver to a patient.
  • The operators of the provisioning center shall provide an annual donation of either $5000 or 1% of net profits- whichever amount is greater- to a non profit organization that largely benefits residents of East Lansing and organized primarily to benefit people with moderately low income, conserving or improving natural resources, or reducing cruelty to children or animals.

East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows said, “It is important for this to pass now because it provides us with a grandfather provision that we can defend as we go forward.  I’m not sure what the rules are going to look like for recreational marijuana, but we have something in place this way”.

Possible Future Issues with the Recently Passed Ordinance:

One of the most unique aspects of the ordinance is prohibiting the sale of smokable and vapable medical marijuana products.  This limits the product selection to medical edibles, oil-based tinctures, and topical skin products. City Councilor Shanna Draheim felt this was too restrictive on businesses, as most of the medical marijuana market share comes from smokable products.  Furthermore, many experts and card holding citizens identified the concern that different patients react better to different medical forms. Draheim noted, “I think this is between a patient and doctor”.

Furthermore, the section stating provisioning centers may not make a specific district or neighborhood associated with marijuana usage and trade is incredibly ambiguous.  Immediately when the first provisioning center opens, that area will be associated with medical marijuana and there is simply no way to avoid that. While the section doesn’t denote whether the City has the power to close or fine a dispensary for violation of this statute, punishment of that nature could easily result in lawsuits against the city.  

Another issue with the ordinance lies in the way they created the overlay districts.  The areas in which provisioning centers will be allowed are minuscule when compared to other districts, which creates a small number of possible locations.

Despite these issues with the ordinance, the section mandating the donation to a local charity is respectable.  Either 1% of total net profits or $5000 (whichever is larger) must be donated to a charity that is focused on improving lives of locals or the environment; which will push positive change in the East Lansing community.  Furthermore, this standard may help those against medical marijuana accept the newfound industry in their city.

What You Need to Know about the Other Facility Types

East Lansing’s first medical marijuana ordinance went into effect on December 20, 2017.  It creates a framework for processing facilities, grow houses, secure transporters and safety compliance labs.  Interestingly, the city has not received a single license application in the near year they have been accepting applications.  Despite the lack of applications, the ordinance has good policy and regulations. Here are a few key notes:

  • No hard cap on numbers of any of the four license types.
  • All medical marijuana facilities must be 1000 feet away from any school, building with licensed after-school programs or any other drug-free zone.
  • Uses a “natural zoning cap” to regulate facility numbers through the use of buffers and overlay districts.
  • No facility can stack a caregiver or provisioning center with another license type.
  • Facilities must be operated and maintained at all times so any by-products or waste are disposed of to avoid any public safety or health concerns.
  • Marijuana products must be stored in a locked facility accessible only by licensed growers or employees, the facility must be approved by both the building official and East Lansing Police Dept.
  • No marijuana may be grown or processed in a way that would emit odors detectable by the public.
  • Each facility must pay an annual $5000 license fee.

What Needs to be done? What is causing the problem?

East Lansing has uncommon characteristics that are halting progress in the medical marijuana industry.  The college campus atmosphere is most likely what is fueling the differences on the City council.  There are concerns with unintended side effects among the over 50,000 students.  Additionally, the unusually large number of liquor stores (again, college town) creates zoning issues for those trying to open a dispensary because of the 1000 foot buffer between medical marijuana facilities and liquor stores.  

The lack of provisioning centers may be what is stopping business owners from opening other facility types in East Lansing, as the system isn’t complete.  A system without provisioning centers destroys the possibility for money to be made, but forward progress has finally been made.

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