Detroit — Some dispensaries operating in Detroit may be forced to close this year after city officials agreed to pause processing medical marijuana business applications.
The moratorium approved Tuesday by City Council comes just two days before the state’s deadline for existing businesses to turn in applications for local approval. Without local approval by the deadline, those facilities will likely be denied the chance at licensure under a new state law, officials say.
Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said it would be premature to process those applications without a final decision on a lawsuit that has challenged medical marijuana voter initiatives passed by city residents in November. The proposals eased restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries.
“We can’t process them without knowing what the rules are,” Garcia said during the council meeting Tuesday. “And the rules are in flux.”
Mayor Mike Duggan still has to sign off on the moratorium before it goes into effect. Alexis Wiley, Duggan's chief of staff, said the mayor supports the moratorium and will sign off on it Wednesday.
It is effective for 180 days and prohibits all departments from accepting or approving applications for permits from medical marijuana facilities.
Garcia said the law department believes the court will declare the voter initiatives void because “one cannot zone by voter initiative.”
One of the ballot proposals expanded the zones for medical marijuana facilities to operate.
“It would be against public policy for the city to issue any such licenses or permits until after the validity of the initiatives has been determined and after City Council has had the opportunity to adopt new ordinances regulating the licensing and zoning of such businesses,” the city’s resolution states.
A court hearing for the lawsuit against the voter initiatives has been set for Friday before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Robert Colombo Jr.
Michael D. Stein, a Bloomfield Hills attorney, represents more than a dozen dispensaries in Detroit that fear forced closure if they miss the state deadline. Stein said he was “extremely disappointed” the council decided to approve the moratorium. Detroit, he said, should not have allowed the voter initiative lawsuit to delay the process of approving applications.
“It appears this decision was born out of some council members’ heads and has nothing to do with the will of the people of Detroit,” Stein said. “Until an ordinance is ruled void, it is effective — end of story. That’s the law of the land.”
Seven of Stein’s clients have filed lawsuits in Wayne County Circuit Court seeking to get Detroit to grant their licenses, he said.
The Michigan Court of Appeals on Friday issued an emergency order directing Detroit to accept applications.
Garcia said the city honored the mandate, however, the moratorium allows officials to resist any pressure to approve them.
Prior to the emergency order, Detroit was only completing “attestation” forms for 70 facilities that had been cleared through zoning, allowing them to move forward to the state, Garcia said.
He acknowledged the city has faced backlash from medical marijuana dispensaries that didn’t get license approvals.
“That’s really not our problem,” Garcia said. “We can only do what’s best for the city. Those folks will make their way to the end of the system however they can, and I do think there are various avenues for them to do that.”
Councilman James Tate, who opposed the November ballot initiatives, said Detroit officials are trying to shape an industry that’s in its “infancy.”
“This is a cautionary tale for those individuals who want to seek ballot initiatives with illegal language,” Tate said during the meeting. “We now have to move forward to figure out how this will work for the city of Detroit and the citizens of Detroit.”