Planning staff wants Detroit to sue over marijuana laws

Christine Ferretti, and Nicquel Terry

Detroit — The city’s Planning Commission wants Detroit to file a lawsuit over a pair of voter-approved medical marijuana laws it claims will illegally impair the city’s zoning powers.

But Detroit’s Law Department says it has no plans to challenge the will of the city’s voters in the Nov. 7 general election.

The City Council on Tuesday voted 7-1 to support the planning commission in urging Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit’s corporation counsel to initiate a challenge of the proposals to “preserve the integrity of the city’s zoning ordinance.”

Planning officials contend the marijuana initiatives “improperly” amend Detroit’s zoning code in violation of state regulations.

“We believe, in short, this sets a precedent that could do irreparable harm to the city’s local control as it relates to the zoning ordinance,” Marcell Todd, a senior city planner for Detroit, told council members Tuesday. “All other zoning ordinances could then be subject to a ballot initiative.”

But Detroit’s Corporation Counsel Melvin Butch Hollowell countered that the city’s Law Department doesn’t plan to file suit and that the mayor’s office is in alignment with that decision.

“I have no plans to challenge the will of the voters on this matter,” Hollowell told The News. “My position is that the voters have spoken and so what we should be focusing on is how do we make the regulatory framework adopted by the voters work.”

Councilman James Tate, who introduced the resolution, agreed with planning officials that the city should pursue a lawsuit over the “faulty language.”

“This is not an issue of voter suppression,” Tate stressed. “If we want to go to court to take out the bad stuff — the illegal stuff — in the ballot language that does not hurt anyone’s vote.”

But Council President Pro Tem George Cushingberry Jr. took exception, noting a judge previously ruled in favor of putting the measures before voters.

The two proposals that ease restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries in Detroit were approved by voters this month.

Proposal A, a medical marijuana facilities ordinance, had 60 percent of the support from voters to 39 percent rejecting it, with all precincts reporting.

Proposal B, a zoning ordinance, had 58 percent of the support from voters to 41 percent voting “no.”

“All this does is give us the opportunity to try to overturn what the people said clearly by over 60 percent; that they don’t like the way we did it,” Cushingberry protested.

The voter-led proposals replace Detroit’s current medical marijuana ordinance that City Council approved in March 2016.

Proposal A requires Detroit to opt into the state law that recognizes five licenses: growing, testing, processing, transporting and provision centers.

It eliminates distance requirements for dispensaries near parks, day cares, liquor stores and arcades and reduces requirements for churches and other marijuana facilities.

Proposal B expands the zones for medical marijuana facilities to operate and eliminates zoning board appeal application reviews and public nuisance regulations.

Citizens for Sensible Cannabis Reform collected enough signatures to get the initiatives on the ballot. Group spokesman Jonathan Barlow said Tuesday the planning commission’s move is unfair.

“We don’t understand why they are looking to waste more city dollars on challenging us in court,” Barlow said.