Detroit medical pot shops can apply to operate in March

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The 30-day window for existing medical marijuana centers to put in a bid to legally operate in in the city launches online March 1, the city’s top lawyer said Tuesday.

Detroit Corporation Counsel Melvin Butch Hollowell said there are 211 shops operating within the city that have to meet the requirements and timetable or be subject to closure.

Hollowell discussed the requirement and other procedures that govern where and how Detroit’s medical marijuana dispensaries can operate during a morning presentation to the city council.

The rules were put in place under a set of controversial ordinances approved by the council last year to combat a proliferation of the so-called pot shops that have been sprouting up throughout the city.

Applications will go live online at 9 a.m. March 1 and be taken on a first-come, first-served basis, he said.

“We’ve got about a month, and we’ve been working very hard with all the major stakeholders across the city to have a smooth process,” Hollowell said.

The city, he added, has sent out information Tuesday to existing shops, alerting them of the upcoming changes.

“We wanted to make it clear in writing,” he said. “Put all of the centers on notice, and we’ve done so.”

The new ordinance will be enforced by the Detroit police and building and safety departments after March 31. If it’s found that shops are not in compliance with the rules, violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Council President Brenda Jones on Tuesday said she wants assurances that all shops that violate the new regulations will face equal penalty.

“I think everybody should be treated the same,” she told Hollowell. “If you are not following the law on the books, I don’t care what your case is. Your case is to follow the law.”

Hollowell said the police and building and safety departments both have standards for ensuring that the shops comply.

According to the ordinance, shops that violate licensing rules can face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail.

Licenses can be suspended, revoked or denied if shops fail to correct violations, have excessive complaints or fail to pay taxes, assessments or other fines, the statute says.

The Medical Marihuana Caregiver Centers proposal, crafted by City Councilman James Tate, established rules for licensing and zoning for the facilities that previously had operated without any formal restrictions.

The council signed off on strict licensing rules in October and approved an ordinance that regulated where the dispensaries can locate in December.

That 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.

Hollowell previously said the ordinance left about 650 parcels in the city where dispensaries could legally be located. On Tuesday, he said that number is now likely far lower as many of the parcels have since been snapped up.

Hollowell said before they are considered, applicants must complete all required work before submissions will be accepted, including a site and security plan and background checks, he said. If submissions are turned down, individuals can make an appeal.

Additionally, licenses for medical marijuana centers must be renewed annually, 30 days prior to Sept. 30.

Police Chief James Craig has said officers will respond to complaints of illegal activity but wouldn’t be arbitrarily going after the centers.

Authorities on Tuesday said at least 30 of the marijuana shops have been raided so far.

The proposed regulations didn’t set a cap on the number of pot shops permitted in Detroit, but the law does not allow for grandfathering existing and future dispensaries operating in Detroit.