MI: Judge To Rule Soon On Let Lansing Vote Challenge To Medical Marijuana Ordinance

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Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James Jamo soon will issue an order in response to a lawsuit that could derail Lansing’s existing medical marijuana ordinance.

A group called Let Lansing Vote filed a lawsuit in November against City Clerk Chris Swope, alleging the clerk had improperly rejected a petition.

The petition, submitted by Let Lansing Vote in October 2017, sought to suspend the city’s September 2017 medical marijuana ordinance until it could be repealed by City Council or brought before city voters in 2018.

The clerk’s office rejected the petition, saying it was 26 signatures short of the number necessary to represent 5% of the city’s registered voters.

Let Lansing Vote says the city rejected signatures that should have been counted.

Chief Deputy City Clerk Brian Jackson rejected 124 signatures because they were submitted by petition circulator Elbert Burch, who did not fill out his “county of registration” on the form, according to court filings. Let Lansing Vote attorneys said Burch left that section blank because he was not registered to vote in any county and was not required to be a registered voter.

Another 226 signatures hinge on the question of whether St. Louis City, Missouri is a city or a county.

Jackson rejected the signatures submitted by circulator Vince Ivory, who listed St. Louis City as his county of registration.

“In 1876, the City of St. Louis seceded from the County of St. Louis and became an independent city. In certain states, some jurisdictions are not in any County but are treated as counties. St. Louis City is one of these jurisdictions, therefore the entry was proper, and these signatures should be counted in the total,” Let Lansing Vote attorneys wrote.

During a motion hearing Wednesday, Lansing City Attorney Jim Smiertka did question whether St. Louis City is, in fact, a county, though the county designation was not a central part of the city’s argument.

Smiertka instead argued that, under the Lansing City Charter, the city clerk has discretion to determine whether petition signatures are valid.

“Their defense is incompetence,” Jarren Osmar, a member of Let Lansing Vote, said Wednesday. “They don’t assert their decisions were right. They assert it doesn’t matter. This is really a democracy issue”

Smiertka also argued that Let Lansing Vote did not act in a timely manner when it challenged the city. Smiertka said a writ of mandamus from the judge would be unduly disruptive since 140 people already have applied for medical marijuana licenses to operate businesses under the September 2017 ordinance.

Ultimately, owners of medical marijuana businesses will need both city and state licenses to operate in Lansing. The state’s application deadline is Thursday.

“There’s an entire industry that was beginning here, but then the court issues this mandamus or somehow says this petition is valid and it’s all defunct,” Smiertka said.

Jamo said he would take the timeliness issue into consideration and submit a ruling “without much delay.”

The Sept. 7, 2017 ordinance limited the number of provisioning centers, also called dispensaries, to 25 citywide. It did not limit the numbers of other types of medical marijuana establishments.

It costs $5,000 to apply for a city license to run a medical marijuana provisioning center, processor facility, secure transporter, grower facility or safety compliance facility.

Members of Let Lansing Vote have asked City Council to raise the dispensary cap, arguing the ordinance is too restrictive. They also say the city’s licensing process favors wealthy applicants over small business owners.

Bob Baldori, an attorney for Let Lansing Vote, said, if the lawsuit is successful, the city will revert to its previous medical marijuana rules, which were repealed once council approved its 2017 ordinance.