Local governments grapple with regulating medical marijuana distributors

East Lansing, MI – Local municipalities are struggling to find legal ways to regulate medical marijuana. The Michigan law allowing people to use and distribute marijuana for medicinal purposes went into effect this year. Since then communities have been trying to get rules on the books which manage these new businesses.

The cities of Lansing and East Lansing are close to bringing resolutions to their respective councils for a vote.

Melissa Ingells spoke with WKAR municipal government reporter Rob South about the issue. She asked him about the difference between dispensaries and caregivers.


Rob South: Early on, several dispensaries opened up. This is one of the reasons why municipalities now want to regulate it. A dispensary, basically, is a place where a caregiver, let's say you, consigns with the shop to give your product to your patient. In other words, you might not even need to have contact with your patient; you would just consign with this dispensary to make that transaction for you. By and large, most municipalities are looking at this as being illegal, and they are staying away from any attempt to try to regulate dispensaries, because, in fact, they don't see them as legal entities. So that comes into the idea of what is a caregiver and how is that different. The Michigan law has set up the rules so that you can get a caregiver's license, and under that you can have five patients. This would allow that one person to grow and distribute marijuana for five other people.

Melissa Ingells: Are there a lot of caregivers? One would think that that would be kind of a growing field.

RS: Yes, as a matter of fact there are. According to the State, there have been about 55 thousand applications that they've received for the ability to become a caregiver, so there are a lot of people who are interested in getting into this. So you can see that a municipality could conceivably have thousands of small businesses in their community that distribute medical marijuana.

MI: Right, those are pretty major numbers. How are the City of Lansing's rules different from the City of East Lansing's rules on this?

RS: Essentially, since they're trying to regulate business, they also have to stay within their own laws and their own regulations on how they regulate a business. The City of Lansing, for example, has established rules that say that you cannot distribute out of your home if you are within a certain range of schools or churches or other community activities.

RS: One thing that's different about the City of East Lansing is that they are actually requiring people to apply for a permit to become caregivers. The main thing is that they want to keep it out of neighborhoods; they don't want a lot of people coming to one place. So one thing that both of these ordinances do is they will let the caregiver operate from anywhere if they go to the patient's home. They can grow it in their home next to a church, but they can't have the patients come to them; they have to go to the patients.

MI: So basically they have to go off-site to do whatever. This sounds incredibly hard to put together, frankly.

RS: Well, it is, and part of that is because the state law is very vague. These municipalities really don't really have anything to go by. This has never been done before; they're making new legislation. Different municipalities are taking a different approach to it across the state. One extreme example is Livonia; Livonia has an outright ban on caregivers.

MI: Period.

RS: Period. A lot of people of people are saying that's going to violate the state law, but Livonia says there's a federal law that bans marijuana.

RS: Everyone expects there to be a lot of lawsuits filed on behalf of this and for it to be challenged in court. There are a lot of gray areas still, and I think many people are saying that it's going to be five or ten years before all the kinks are worked out.

MI: So the regulations, at least that we have locally, when do we expect those to take effect?

RS: The City of Lansing is going to vote on its regulation maybe as early as Monday. The City of East Lansing is getting close to putting something before their council, but at this point they don't have any finalized documents. Everybody is in a hurry to do this, because they don't want to go for very long without some document regulating these businesses.

MI: Okay. WKAR's Rob South, thank you very much for your time.

RS: Thank you Melissa.