Judge strikes down Detroit’s medical pot initiative

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Detroit — A judge on Friday overturned a medical marijuana initiative Detroit voters approved last year that would have changed city zoning rules.

In his decision late in the afternoon, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Robert Colombo also rolled back part of another initiative voters also passed in November that changed the distance requirements between medical marijuana facilities and other dispensaries, parks, day-care centers, liquor stores and arcades.

Colombo’s order came hours after he denied two lawsuits filed in December to throw out the proposals.

Colombo said in court Friday he would allow the city to challenge the medical marijuana initiatives. Citizens for Sensible Cannabis, which petitioned for the proposals last year, became the defendant in the case. James Noseda, a city attorney, filed the city’s claim Friday.

The city’s law department wanted the court to toss the voter initiatives because “one cannot zone by voter initiative,” Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said earlier this week.

In his ruling, Colombo said a state Supreme Court case “dictates that the citizens of a home rule city cannot, absent compliance with the (Michigan Zoning Enabling Act), employ a voter initiative to rezone property.”

The city of Detroit was initially listed as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by two residents — Marcus Cummins and Deborah Omokehinde — and another claim by VK Real Estate Holdings III LLC, which represents a property seeking a permit to operate a medical marijuana caregiver center.

Colombo said the court added Citizens for Sensible Cannabis as a defendant because the city of Detroit also wanted the voter-approved initiatives thrown out.

“What was very clear to me was that we did not have an actual controversy because the city of Detroit actually agreed with the position of the plaintiffs,” Colombo said.

Garcia said Friday night the city “is pleased with Judge Colombo’s order and opinion granting the city’s motion for declaratory judgement as to the voter initiatives that involve zoning.”

In their lawsuit, Cummins and Omokehinde asked the court to declare the medical marijuana initiatives unconstitutional.

The pair argued the measures made “a substantial portion of residential and commercial property valueless” by allowing more medical marijuana facilities to operate. They also said they believed the zoning expansion allowed in the proposals was illegal.

“We’re not anti-marijuana, we just want regulations,” said Cummins, who is considering appealing Colombo’s decision. “We’re not trying to see (medical marijuana facilities) on every corner, and our kids deserve better than that.”

During the hearing, Colombo said he believed Cummins and Omokehinde failed to establish their standing in the case.

“The fact that they are taxpayers and owners of real estate in Detroit does not establish any special injury distinct from any other taxpayers or residents in the city of Detroit,” Colombo said.

In the VK Real Estate Holdings III LLC lawsuit, the business argues that zoning laws can’t be altered by voters and the city of Detroit should not have allowed the initiatives to appear on the ballot.

But Colombo said the lawsuit failed to demonstrate how the plaintiff would be exclusively impacted by the voter initiatives.

“The allegation that the state might not approve their license is true of anyone who may apply for a license,” Colombo said. “There is no special interest.”

Jonathan Barlow, spokesman for Citizens for Sensible Cannabis, said Detroit blindsided him in the case because he thought city officials were neutral on the medical marijuana issue.

Detroit, he said, has tried to “control” the medical marijuana industry as opposed to working with residents.

“If there was ever a time where the citizens should be happy, it’s now,” Barlow said after the hearing. “Simply because their will is actually being heard versus a select few who have been civically engaged and have the ear of the elected officials.”

Barlow said his group is considering an appeal but “it’s still depending on how much engagement really takes place with the city and the industry. Prior to this, there’s been little conversation between the actual elected officials and industry stakeholders. There is still opportunity for some type of resolve to take place for long term success.”

The medical marijuana ballot proposals passed in November replaced the ordinance Detroit City Council approved in 2016.

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Twitter: @NicquelTerry

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.