Medical pot shop law to be introduced in Detroit

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

A long-awaited ordinance to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in Detroit is expected to be introduced by next week.

Detroit City Councilman James Tate, who spearheaded the legislation that’s been in the works since last year, said Tuesday he hopes to introduce the plan at the council’s formal session Tuesday.

The proposal remains in draft form, but Tate said it is designed to address two key areas. The first, he says, will set strict licensing requirements for dispensary operators.

The other will include an amendment to the city’s zoning code that will specify where facilities can legally locate within the city.

The plan won’t set a cap on the number of facilities permitted within Detroit. But all current dispensaries — at least 80 by some estimates — will be subject to the licensing process, as well as future shops.

“It’s not going to be a grandfathering situation. Nobody will be grandfathered,” Tate said. “So, there is going to be a rush to the door.”

The ordinance will establish required distances between each of the potential dispensaries. It will also specify a distance between the shops and other controlled uses, including party stores and adult cabarets as well as the city’s parks, schools and churches.

The terms are being developed by a committee that formed last year with representation from Detroit’s police and law departments, building officials, planning commission and others. City departments will be equipped with the manpower to handle the licensing process quickly, Tate added.

Medical marijuana dispensaries do not exist under current state laws, but the unregulated operations have continued to sprout up in Detroit and other Michigan cities.

Many residents and community groups are frustrated over the proliferation and have pressed for a local law to control it.

“We have more of those facilities in the city than schools,” said Andre C. Walk, president of the Ninth Precinct Community Relations Council, which represents 76 block clubs. “What are we telling our kids, ‘you can’t learn to read, but you can smoke some weed?’”

A number of community, block club and faith-based groups have come up with recommendations of their own. In January, those groups formed the Metropolitan Detroit Community Action Coalition to combat what they consider to be an over-saturation of medical pot shops.

The issue has been a key area of concern for Tate, who says 21 dispensaries are operating in his nearly 19-square-mile council district.

“Right now what we have going on makes absolutely no sense,” Tate said. “We have no regulations whatsoever. We want to make sure that there’s safe access to the medication for those who need it.”

Michigan’s Medical Marihuana Act, which allows residents with debilitating medical conditions to legally use the drug, was approved by the state’s voters in 2008.

Under the law, state residents can apply for and obtain licenses to use and grow marijuana for medicinal purposes. But there’s been no clarity on whether dispensaries have the same capabilities.

Some have opened and have been operating with strict standards to monitor products and treat patients; others are not.

Detroit had been focused on completing the ordinance, rather than attempting to shut down any of the centers. In July, the city’s police department conducted its first medical marijuana dispensary raid, making arrests and seizing guns and drugs.