Marijuana ordinance petition drive’s fate in clerk’s hands

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Marijuana ordinance petition drive's fate in clerk's hands
credit:Lansing State Journal

LANSING — One day after City Council set a public hearing for a medical marijuana ordinance, a petition drive aimed to put a different ordinance on the fall ballot created political pressure at City Hall.

During Tuesday’s Election Commission meeting, City Clerk Chris Swope said he needs more time to determine if he should approve a group’s ballot initiative.

“I think I need additional time to digest this,” said Swope, up for re-election this fall.

Seeking to get its ordinance on the Nov. 7 election ballot, a group called Lansing Loves Safe Jobs filed  about 6,300 petition signatures with Swope’s office on July 18.

The group needed about 4,000 valid signatures, but those did not appear to be an issue at the election meeting.

Swope said he wasn’t prepared to make a decision about moving the initiated ordinance forward because City Attorney Jim Smiertka issued a legal opinion on Tuesday which raised concerns about the petition and proposed ordinance’s language.

Smiertka wrote in his opinion the ballot proposal is “improper and deficient” because it contains “numerous and inseparable illegal provisions.” He suggested the petitioner should be allowed 10 days for filing supplemental papers.

At the election meeting, Smiertka said the proposed ordinance improperly attempts to enact zoning amendments, contains contains confusing language and doesn’t have a format that follows state law.

Jeff Hank, an East Lansing attorney, chairs the Lansing Loves Safe Jobs political action committee and argued in the meeting Smiertka doesn’t have the legal right to make a determination.

“The city attorney has no authority to say this is confusing,” Hank said. “That’s for the voters to decide.”

Swope has until Aug. 2 to decide if he should submit the group’s proposed ordinance to City Council for consideration. If he does, the council would then have 30 days to either adopt the ordinance as is or place it on the November ballot, giving residents the decision.

If passed by voters, the City Charter states that an initiated ordinance cannot be amended or repealed for two years.

Discussion and review of proposed marijuana ordinance comes at a time when 31 residents seek elected office this fall. Of that group, 29 will be on the Aug. 8 primary election ballot.

On Monday, council members set an Aug. 14 public hearing to discuss its own proposed marijuana ordinance. The hearing will be held at council’s 7 p.m. general meeting on the 10th floor of City Hall.

It will mark the first public hearing of its kind in Lansing in six years. Council members approved a marijuana ordinance in 2011, but have found it difficult to enforce because of changes in state law.

The Lansing Loves Safe Job ordinance, unlike drafts the council has reviewed, doesn’t include zoning that would prohibit establishments like dispensaries from being within 500 feet of other dispensaries, parks, churches and substance abuse facilities. It does have zoning that prohibits establishments from being within 1,000 feet of schools.

The group’s website, LansingLovesSafeJobs.com, states 5,000 jobs in the local cannabis economy “must be saved.”

City officials estimate there are up to 70 unlicensed establishments currently open in the city.  

Lansing Loves Safe Jobs supports a licensing process for marijuana establishments that would be administered by the City Clerk’s Office, with assistance from the fire and police departments, city treasurer and zoning administration.

credit:lansingstatejournal.com

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