Detroit clerk gets petitions to suspend pot shop rules

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

More than 80 applicants on Tuesday made a bid to legally operate medical marijuana dispensaries in the city of Detroit during the first day to do so, officials say.

The application period opens months after the City Council approved a pair of controversial ordinances that govern where and how the so-called pot shops can operate.

The website went live at 9 a.m., coinciding with the effective date of the new law. Dispensary submissions will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis.

In the meantime, 211 shops operating in Detroit were put on notice last month that they would have to meet the requirements or face closure.

“They are now operating at their own risk,” said Detroit’s Corporation Counsel Melvin Butch Hollowell, noting the city’s police and Buildings, Safety Engineering & Environmental departments have enforcement authority, under the city code.

“They will exercise within their discretion the authority to enforce city law,” he added.

The Medical Marihuana Caregiver Center legislation was spearheaded by District 1 City Councilman James Tate in an effort to combat an oversaturation of the unregulated shops that had been sprouting up throughout Detroit.

Violations are expected to be handled on a case-by-case basis. Shops that break the licensing rules could 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.

Meanwhile, Citizens for Sensible Cannabis Reform submitted petition signatures to City Clerk Janice Winfrey Tuesday in an attempt to have the new ordinances suspended and put the measures instead before city voters in August.

The clerk said that her office received the petitions, which did meet the approximately 4,000 signatures required. They were then forwarded to the Law Department for review.

But Hollowell said the efforts challenging the zoning and licensing laws were done improperly under state law and City Charter and were invalid.

On the zoning rules, the group would have had to file its challenge within seven days of publication of the ordinance, which was in January. For licensing, the group would have had to turn in its petition to the city clerk’s office before the day that the ordinance took effect, he said.

David Bell, who heads the building department, said late Tuesday that just over 80 applications had been submitted. It’s unclear at this point if applications are from existing shops or are new requests.

A preliminary list provided by the city shows that only about a quarter of the applicants list a Detroit address. Others span Livingston, Macomb, Wayne and Oakland county cities including Howell, Sterling Heights, Bloomfield Hills, Shelby Township, Warren, Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, Troy and others.

The council signed off on strict licensing rules in October and approved a separate ordinance in December that regulates where the shops can locate. The ordinances didn’t cap the number of dispensaries permitted in Detroit.

That zoning component 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.

Bell said his staff will review the submissions to ensure all necessary items have been received. Next will be a site plan review for each location. Steps include a public hearing over land use, plan review, business licensing and inspections.

Applicants who attempt to turn in an application for a space that is too close to a drug-free zone will be informed online that they are ineligible, he said.

Those who are within the 1,000-foot radius of other controlled uses will be able to “proceed at your own risk.” Those cases, he said, would have to go before the Board of Zoning Appeals.

cferretti@detroitnews.com