Lansing is a peculiar city located in Michigan. There are about 30 dispensaries currently open in Lansing, yet locals have this joke that you need “two jars of pot and a lease” to get your local medical marijuana business started. There are no guidelines for individuals starting their operations, and no licensing procedures. Despite City Council’s passage of an ordinance in 2011 regulating the businesses, Lansing still doesn’t have a licensing process for medical marijuana dispensaries. Nearly four years ago, Michigan’s medical marijuana industry slipped into a downward spiral after the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that dispensaries are technically illegal under the state’s medical marijuana law.
Operate at your own peril!
The ruling held that the state’s 2008 voter-approved medical marijuana law does not allow for medical marijuana to be sold, even among the nearly 100,000 people who have state-issued medical marijuana cards. The City Attorney’s Office informed City Council that any dispensaries open would operate at their own risk. As a result hundreds of businesses shut down, with dispensary owners deciding to exit the industry rather than face the possibility of criminal charges. “People were legitimately scared, and (law enforcement agencies) were raiding MMJ businesses,” said Jamie Lowell, owner of one of the first dispensaries to open in the state, back in 2009. Things didn’t stop there, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that dispensaries can be shut down using the state’s public nuisance law, a ruling that Attorney General Bill Schuette praised, saying it virtually prohibited retail marijuana sales. Yet, dispensaries keep popping up, which is causing concern among some. New ones seem to be opening every couple weeks. The reason behind this is that numerous local governments around the state have taken a more pro-cannabis stance and as a result they haven’t been actively trying to close down dispensaries. What’s interesting is that the state doesn’t keep precise track of how many dispensaries are operating (these numbers are only estimates of how many are in business).
Relaxed atmosphere and abundance of dispensaries
In Lansing, city officials are currently watching the Legislature, waiting to see if lawmakers will pass a bill clarifying the role of dispensaries. Mayor Virg Bernero’s opinion is that dispensaries in Lansing are following the law by serving only medical marijuana cardholders. “We’re trying to comply with the law,” Bernero said about dispensaries in an April interview, “we continue to try and deal with the legal rubric that’s out there. I try to follow what’s out there (at state and federal levels), but right now it’s a bit of a hodgepodge.” Some council members, such as A’Lynne Boles are trying to push for a more balanced approach to dispensaries in Lansing, an approach that would forbid owners from saturating specific areas of the city – because there are no regulations, everyone wants to be located at attractive locations within the city center. Mayor Bernero also has made it clear that low-level use of the drug is not a priority of the police department. Bernero said Lansing is going to “lead the way on marijuana sanity,” and the majority of residents appear open-minded.