Detroit passes ordinance to regulate medical pot shops

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

The Detroit City Council on Thursday approved an ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

Detroit City Councilperson James Tate attends a public hearing in Detroit on medical marijuana dispensaries on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015.

The vote was 6-1, with council member Scott Benson voting no. Members George Cushingberry and Raquel Castaneda-Lopez were not present.

The ordinance will not only limit the growth of dispensaries in Michigan’s largest city — estimated at about 150 — but roll back existing ones. The measure creates 1,000-foot buffer zones for dispensaries, which generally wouldn’t be allowed closer than that distance to drug-free zones, other dispensaries, city parks, schools and churches.

The ordinance leaves 651 parcels in the city where dispensaries could legally be located, said Butch Hollowell, corporation counsel for the city.

The ordinance will become effective March 1. Police Chief James Craig said: “We will respond to any complaints of illegal activity,” but “we’re not going to arbitrarily go after” dispensaries.

“When we find that they’re operating outside the law, we will and we have investigated that,” he said.

James Shammas, owner of Unified Collective, a dispensary on Eight Mile between John R. and Woodward, called the zoning ordinance “too constricting.”

“I don’t think there’s going to be enough dispensaries to facilitate the thousands of patients who are coming to the city every day,” he said. “Do I think it needed to be regulated? Yes. But I think they rushed it, and I don’t know what the rush is.”

Earlier, Councilwoman Janee Ayers said the city has “way too many” dispensaries.

“We don’t see this happening in the suburbs. I don’t want to drive down 8 Mile and see 31 green crosses,” Ayers said, referring to the commonly used symbol for dispensaries.

The vote came after a spirited public hearing in which a number of Detroiters argued the city has too many medical marijuana shops compared to other cities in southeast Michigan.

“Detroit should do as the suburbs do — have a moratorium,” resident Tracy Perry said. “They said no, and we said nothing, and (dispensaries) flooded into Detroit.”

The City Council, said councilman Gabe Leland, has to perform a “balancing act” between clamping down on an industry critics say has grown out of control, and allowing medical marijuana patients safe access to their medicine.

Councilman James Tate said he first learned that dispensaries were operating in the city about a year and a half ago.

“I’d hate to be in a position where I couldn’t access medicine I need,” Tate said. “But enough is enough.”

Several speakers defended the need for medical marijuana shops and took issue with the implication that dispensaries are comparable to strip clubs. Some expressed concern as to where they could safely obtain medication if dispensaries were severely rolled back.

Jim Powers, whose son, Ryan, 7, is a medical marijuana patient, warned that if access to dispensaries goes away, “I will go into the neighborhoods” to access the medical marijuana, which was approved by Michigan voters in 2008.