Are recreational pot shops coming to your town? Here's what mid-Michigan officials say
LANSING — Michigan voters made their choice Tuesday: Adult recreational marijuana use will be legal statewide.
Now, local leaders will face their own choice: Whether to allow legal weed businesses to set up shop in their communities.
If you are least 21, you will be allowed to possess, grow and use small amounts of marijuana beginning 10 days after the Board of Canvassers certifies Tuesday’s election results — that could be as soon as December.
But, it will take more time before legal marijuana businesses start popping up in Michigan, and even then, it’s unclear exactly how many of those establishments will be allowed in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties.
Most local leaders in the tri-county area say they are wary of, if not outright opposed to, recreational pot retail in the areas they represent. There are notable exceptions, however, in more liberal parts of Ingham County, such as East Lansing.
Proposal 1: Marijuana legalization passes in Michigan
Legal marijuana in Michigan: What you need to know
Local governments can opt out
Although local governments cannot stop personal use of marijuana in their communities, officials do have local some control over businesses that deal with cannabis.
Proposal 1, approved Tuesday, will set in motion a series of rules, including a licensing system for the facilities that grow, process, test, transport and sell recreational marijuana. Michigan has up to a year to start accepting applications for those licenses, according to the state law that will take effect once passage of Proposal 1 is officially certified.
A city council or a township board could still vote to limit the number of those businesses in a local jurisdiction or ban them completely.
If communities do opt into the state’s business licensing system, the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act allows municipalities to charge up to $5,000 per local license and to regulate the businesses in any way that is not “unreasonably impracticable.” That includes restrictions on where those establishments are located and what kind of signage they may display.
Many Ingham County leaders call for caution
The city of Mason sided with the majority of Michigan communities when it chose to ban all types of medical marijuana facilities within its boundaries. Mason Mayor Russ Whipple, also a voting member of Mason City Council, anticipates the city’s lawmakers will take a similar tack by choosing to ban recreational marijuana businesses.
Whipple feels there are “too many unanswered questions” with regard to adult-use cannabis and how it might affect employment and public health. He was personally against Proposal 1, although he also believed its passage was inevitable.
“I’m not necessarily one of those people who’s going to go out and picket and lay myself across the street to try and stop it,” Whipple said of legalizing recreational marijuana. “But, I believe we should go slow on it."
An exhortation toward caution was common among Ingham County officials. In Williamston, City Council members are waiting for more information, City Manager Corey Schmidt said prior to Tuesday's election. Willamston prohibits medical marijuana establishments.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Michigan since 2008, but the state is still in the process of issuing licenses for medical cannabis cannabis businesses.
In Ingham County, only East Lansing, Leslie Township, Lansing Township and Webberville opted to allow medical marijuana facilities. Of those communities, only Lansing and East Lansing chose to open their doors to all categories of those businesses, including dispensaries.
In Lansing Township, only limited numbers of medical growers, processors and safety-compliance facilities are allowed. The township chose to ban the dispensaries that sell medical marijuana following concerns from residents about odors and excessive car traffic, said Township Supervisor Dion'trae Hayes.
“It was a hard decision,” Hayes said of the dispensary ban. “There was a time when I was getting a call every day from someone who was asking to open a provisioning center.”
The "over-saturation” of marijuana businesses in neighboring communities, convinced local officials that they didn’t want the township to gain a reputation as a marijuana mecca, Hayes said.
Lansing Township trustees haven't yet made a decision on recreational businesses — that would depend on feedback from residents — but Hayes anticipates similar considerations will come into play.
Is Calhoun County ready for recreational marijuana?
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East Lansing wants to opt in
East Lansing stands out among Lansing-area communities in that its decision-makers are united in favor of recreational marijuana. All five of its City Council members supported Proposal 1 and say they plan to allow recreational marijuana businesses in their city.
Even Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann, who has been the most conservative council member in his approach to regulating medical marijuana, says the city should welcome recreational retail, so long as those businesses don't encroach on neighborhoods and can be zoned in a way that's aesthetically pleasing.
The war on drugs has been failure, Council Member Ruth Beier said, adding that recreational businesses should be introduced in a limited way that doesn't drive up rents and prevent other types businesses from locating in East Lansing.
"I don't like to make people criminals for no good reason," Beier said of criminalizing marijuana. "I think that's silly."
Council Member Aaron Stephens suggested some of the windfall from marijuana should be redirected toward the low-income and non-white communities that have disproportionately been targets of the drug war. As an example, he cited East Lansing's proposal to make dispensaries give 1% of their annual profits to charitable organizations within the city.
Council members said East Lansing shouldn't rush to implement recreational rules and instead wait to watch and learn from other communities that opt in first. At the same time, many council members expressed hope that cannabis would serve as a substitute for alcohol among Michigan State University students.
"I don't think we're suddenly going to have 50,000 stoners lying around and I don't think it will bring crime," East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows said, suggesting that a regulated market would replace illegal drug sales.
He added, in a reference to MSU's history of riots, "There's a significant difference between how people act when they're stoned and how people act when they're imbibing alcohol. I think marijuana users are less likely to be burning couches."
City of Lansing could go either way
It would take five of eight Lansing City Council members to block recreational marijuana businesses and it's unclear whether those votes will materialize.
Council President Carol Wood is unequivocal about wanting to opt out and Council Member Patricia Spitzley says she's "leaning toward" opting out.
Council Member Adam Hussain voices a wait-and-see approach and Council Members Jeremy Garza and Jody Washington haven't returned requests for comment on the issue.
So far, three council members, Brian Jackson, Peter Spadafore and Kathie Dunbar, have come out in favor of recreational weed businesses in Lansing.
Jackson, a former prosecutor and a legalization proponent, says regulated businesses will make the community safer by undermining the black market. He also believes that low-level drug enforcement is a waste of police resources.
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor supports allowing recreational marijuana to exist within the parameters already set by Lansing's medical marijuana rules. Lansing's 2017 marijuana ordinance allows for up to 25 dispensaries; Schor suggested recreational marijuana sales could be limited to those same 25 facilities.
Prior to the election, Spadafore said he needed more information before making a decision on recreational businesses. On Friday, Spadafore issued a statement saying he wanted to respect the will of the voters who approved Proposal 1 on Tuesday. Spadafore added he supports allowing dispensaries already licensed for medical marijuana to become licensed to sell recreational marijuana, as well.
Legal fights are likely
There is some question about whether some communities, like Lansing and East Lansing, have already set the stage for allowing recreational businesses.
A section of the state's recreational marijuana licensing law states, a "municipality may not adopt an ordinance that ... prohibits a marihuana grower, a marihuana processor, and a marihuana retailer from operating within a single facility or from operating at a location shared with a marihuana facility operating pursuant to the medical marihuana facilities licensing act."
Tom Yeadon, East Lansing's city attorney, called that provision "ambiguous at best," adding that some could argue it prevents East Lansing, which opted into medical marijuana, from shutting the door on recreational businesses.
But, Lansing City Attorney Jim Smiertka expressed confidence the provision would not prevent Lansing City Council from banning all recreational marijuana businesses. Kalamazoo City Attorney Clyde Robinson agreed with Smiertka's interpretation, although he added it would ultimately be for the courts to decide.
"It's clear as mud," Jennifer Rigterink of the Michigan Municipal League said in reference to that section of the law.
If nothing else, such ambiguities will be fertile ground for lawsuits, municipal attorneys said.
"This recreational marijuana is a lawyer's dream," Smiertka said.
Another potential flash point in the law relates to the potential for a citizen-led override. If residents don't like the restrictions imposed by local leaders on marijuana businesses, they can petition to challenge the rules via the ballot.
Last year, a citizens group attempted to challenge Lansing's medical marijuana rules via a citywide vote, resulting in a lawsuit against the city that was later dropped.
Opposition strong among Eaton, Clinton county leaders
Eaton and Clinton counties are more politically conservative than Ingham County, and that includes a more conservative approach to marijuana.
Zero Clinton County municipalities opted into allowing medical marijuana businesses. In Eaton County, only one community, Windsor Township, chose to opt in by allowing medical marijuana facilities other than dispensaries.
That widespread opposition appears to hold true for recreational marijuana, as well.
In Grand Ledge, Delta Township, Charlotte, DeWitt and St. Johns, officials say they oppose allowing any marijuana businesses to operate legally.
“We are an extremely conservative community,” St. Johns Mayor Dana Beaman said. “My gut reaction is ... there will be a great pressure here in St. Johns to opt out of it from the community."
Charlotte Mayor Tim Lewis estimates the city still receives a few inquiries each week from individuals interested in opening medical marijuana dispensaries in Charlotte.
“It was more when that first passed,” Lewis said.
Charlotte doesn’t allow them, he said, a stance he supports taking on recreational marijuana use.
“This isn’t a moral or religious thing,” Lewis said. “My interest or lack of interest, as it is, is based on what is best for the city. I just don’t see one positive aspect for a small city that this is going to create. I just don’t. I see problems from the word 'go.'”
Will tax revenue be enough?
Tax benefits that come with allowing marijuana businesses are outweighed, Lewis said, by the impact recreational marijuana businesses would have on law enforcement and the city’s residents.
Whipple, Mason's mayor, agrees.
"This is a pretty big social change and I think a lot of the social cost is unknown," Whipple said.
Recreational marijuana is projected to bring Michigan between $112 million and $275 million annually in tax revenue. For the first two years, at least $20 million per year will go to medical research. Of the remaining money from the state's excise tax, 35% will go to roads and infrastructure, 35% will go to schools,15% will go to counties and 15% will go to municipalities where marijuana businesses are located.
Local leaders are quick to point out that the 15% earmarked for cities and townships is a smaller percentage than the 25% that municipalities get for opting into medical marijuana.
Grand Ledge Mayor Thom Sowle said the tax incentives aren't worth the sacrifice.
“I have weighed that, and I still believe there are other businesses I would rather have in Grand Ledge,” Sowle said. “I think it would be detrimental to the ambiance of my town. I think we’re a family-friendly beautiful little town and I’d like to keep it that way.”
In Delta Township, where the population is more than triple that of other outlying area communities, Township Supervisor Ken Fletcher said officials never supported medical marijuana operations, and he said while the township board hasn’t taken a consensus, he doesn’t believe they would support recreational marijuana businesses either.
“We chose to opt out in the past, and nothing has changed on the board,” Fletcher said. “Based on how they’ve voted in the past I think the board will choose to opt out and not allow it in the community.”
Some local officials say the vocal objections of local law enforcement to the proposal have influenced their thoughts on the issue.
"There’s a lot unknown about this and cities are saying, ‘Come on in. We’ll work this out,' Lewis said. "That worries me as a mayor.”
Which communities allow medical marijuana businesses?
The following Lansing-area municipalities have opted into Michigan's licensing system for medical marijuana facilities, according to a list from the state.
No caps in any categories
City of Lansing
Allows 25 dispensaries
No caps in other categories
Allows 1 Class A grower (Up to 500 plants)
Allows 2 safety-compliance facilities
Allows zero dispensaries, zero processors, zero transporters, zero Class B growers (up to 1,000 plants) and zero Class C growers (up to 1,500 plants)
Allows 3 processors
Allows 2 Class A growers
Allows 2 Class B growers
Allows 3 safety-compliance facilities
No cap on transportersor Class C growers
No caps in other categories
Allows 10 Class A growers
Allows 10 Class B growers
Allows 10 Class C growers
Allows 5 processors
Allows 2 transporters
Allows 2 safety-compliance facilities
Allows zero dispensaries
No communities have opted in
What medical marijuana businesses will be allowed in your community
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Contact Sarah Lehr at (517) 377-1056 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGLehr. Contact Rachel Greco at (517) 528-2075 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ.