Detroit council weighing strict pot shop rules

Christine Ferretti, and Mark Hicks

Detroit — The city’s first attempt at regulating medical marijuana dispensaries has made it to the council table in strict legislation aimed at quashing Detroit’s proliferation of so-called pot shops.

Limited hours, inspections and a ban on drive-thru windows are among the provisions in the detailed legislation spearheaded by City Councilman James Tate.

The councilman introduced his plan during Tuesday’s formal session. The panel moved the measure for council subcommittee review. But Tate hopes his colleagues will act quickly, as more unregulated stores continue to open their doors.

“What we see right now is mind-numbingly stupid in the city of Detroit with these businesses locating any and everywhere they want to go,” he said.

The local law aims to set strict licensing requirements for dispensary operators as well as amend the city’s zoning code to specify where the facilities can locate.

If approved, the new rules would apply to existing facilities as well as any future marijuana provisioning centers in Detroit.

Tate has said the plan won’t set a cap on the number of facilities permitted. But all current dispensaries — at least 80 by some estimates — will be subject to the licensing process, as well as future shops; there will be no “grandfathering” of facilities.

“These ordinances don’t seek to shut down everyone,” he said. “What it does is seek to make sense of what we have in the city of Detroit, which is a wild wild west that’s going on.”

Some medical marijuana advocates are already praising the city’s effort to set guidelines. Others, including Gregory M. Pawlowski, a representative for Americans for Safe Access Michigan, disagree with some of the terms and argue it’s “unfortunate” that the process hasn’t been inclusive enough.

Pawlowski, a Detroit resident and medical marijuana patient and card holder, says banning drive through access may create hardships for patients with limited mobility.

“We already have pharmacies that have drive-thrus for their prescriptions,” he said. “Why can’t a patient who has a medical marijuana card be able to do the same thing?”

He also raised concern over the zoning requirements, adding the designated areas may be difficult to navigate and too distant from the main residential and business areas.

In contrast, the Michigan Cannabis Development Association issued a statement Tuesday in support of strong and consistent regulations for dispensaries.

“Detroit’s effort to regulate medical marijuana shines a light on the fact that we need consistent, statewide regulations across Michigan that can provide certainty for patients and their caregivers, local businesses, law enforcement and local communities,” said Willie Rochon, secretary of the MCDA, which represents medical marijuana businesses in Metro Detroit and across Michigan. “Michigan needs strong regulations that put a priority on patient safety, product safety and public safety.”

A bill package designed to address dispensaries at the state level is still pending in the Legislature.

Under Detroit’s proposed measure:

■A medical marijuana facility cannot be operated without first obtaining a license for a fee from the city’s Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department (BSEED) Business License Center. A separate license is needed for each facility location. Only one issued per person.

■Anyone operating as a medical marijuana facility before the ordinance goes into effect must apply for a business license within 30 days of that date or shut down.

■The applicant and all proposed employees must be at least 21, not been convicted of a felony in the last 10 years and never have been convicted of a felony involving illegal drugs or a felony defined as an assaultive crime under state law.

■Operators must allow Detroit police or other authorized city departments to inspect the facility.

■Drive-thru, walk-up or window access is forbidden.

■The facility can’t be open for business between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. any day.

■Onsite marijuana use is prohibited, and minors aren’t permitted unless they are a registered qualifying patient accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

■A license can be suspended, revoked or denied renewal based on factors including one or more uncorrected ordination violations and “a demonstrated history of excessive complaints for public safety intervention (police, fire and/or EMS) originating from the premises, being three or more calls in any 30-day period.”

■Those found guilty of violations face a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail.

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.

In January, a group of community, block club and faith-based groups officially assembled as the Metropolitan Detroit Community Action Coalition to combat the proliferation. The group previously put together recommendations of its own and presented them to city officials.

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

Councilman Gabe Leland on Tuesday questioned whether officials could get a map of how many marijuana dispensaries currently exist in Detroit that’s “based on fact.”

“Right now there is no entity that’s tracking these,” he said. “Moving forward, I would like to work based on fact and get a sense of how many are in the community.”

Tate countered that the lack of clarity on the number of facilities illustrates the critical need for the ordinance.

“We are trying to regulate a business that is unregulated,” he said.