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Detroit takes another run at medical marijuana ordinance

Confusion continues to reign over medical marijuana dispensaries
Dominic Simpson
Confusion continues to reign over medical marijuana dispensaries

Detroit is trying again to craft a city ordinance to regulate its burgeoning marijuana industry.

The city’s 2016 ordinance was affected by a pair of ballot initiatives that passed last November. They opted the city into state rules on medical marijuana facilities, and initially invalidated some zoning restrictions the city had set up to regulate where dispensaries could operate. A judge later overturned portionsof the ballot measures dealing with zoning, freeing the city to set up and enforce a local zoning scheme.

This new proposal takes into account all of these changes, and sets fair standards for state-permitted marijuana operations to operate in the city, according to the ordinance’s chief sponsor, Detroit City Council member James Tate.

“Approving this ordinance would finally bring some closure to this issue and chart the path to the future of this industry in the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan,” Tate said in a statement released by the city.

“The goal has always been to ensure that we have an industry that is respectful of the neighborhoods, the communities it is located in, but also considerate to individuals seeking safe access to alternative medication. This ordinance balances those two needs with the preservation of neighborhoods being the top priority.”

Tate and other city officials argued that some Detroit neighborhoods had been overrun by unregulated dispensaries, creating nuisance and crime issues. The new ordinance would cap the number of dispensaries city-wide at 75, and retain zoning restrictions requiring dispensaries to be located at least 1,000 feet from schools, churches, liquor stores, and from each other. It also clarifies certain “drug-free zones.”

The ordinance also sets up new rules and local permitting requirements for four new types of marijuana operations allowed under state rules: growing, testing, transporting, and processing operations.

Tate says the goal is to have a good mix of all of them.

“The concern we have is that we didn’t want to put ourselves in a situation where, because this industry is so lucrative, all of our potential warehousing and manufacturing locations, where we could potentially have thousands of employees being hired, that those locations aren’t being overrun by potential grow facilities,” he said.

The proposed ordinance also includes language that would invite owners of marijuana facilities to outline potential “community benefits.” Though it’s not mandatory, outlining those benefits would “definitely assist” in the permitting process, Tate said.

The ordinance was scheduled for a public hearing Thursday, before it starts the legislative process to gain City Council approval.

Tate admits it’s difficult to craft marijuana legislation when the industry and larger state and federal regulations are so “fluid.” But he’s convinced this proposal can survive any such changes, including a statewide voteto legalize recreational marijuana this November.

“I believe that we have an ordinance that will be able to withstand any challenge based upon the state law changing as well, with recreational marijuana,” Tate said.

And despite opposition from some marijuana industry groups that Detroit’s permitting process is too strict and "punitive," Tate thinks this ordinance can survive the legislative process largely intact.

“It’s not offensive, it doesn’t shift too much to one side, but most importantly it works toward preserving the integrity of our neighborhoods,” he said.

Detroit has shut down dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries deemed to be operating illegally. The city says the new proposal should not affect the 57 dispensaries currently operating with temporary approvals from the city and state.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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