Detroit unclear on medical pot ruling’s impact

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Four days after a judge struck down a medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in November, Detroit officials said they have not determined how it will affect the city’s moratorium on facility permit requests.

Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said Tuesday it’s too early to say if the moratorium will be lifted. The city decided last week to pause the processing of medical marijuana business applications without a ruling on lawsuits that challenged the voter initiatives aimed to freeing up restrictions on marijuana dispensaries.

The state’s deadline for existing businesses to turn in applications for local approval was last Thursday, meaning some dispensaries may be forced to close.

“There are a lot of moving parts, and it would be imprudent to make predictions at this time,” Garcia said in an email. “We are working on this issue, but the city needs some time to figure out what is needed — if anything — and more time to get anything that is needed in place.”

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Robert Colombo on Friday overturned Proposal B, which expanded the zones for medical marijuana facilities to operate. Colombo also tossed out part of Proposal A, which would have eliminated all distance requirements for dispensaries near parks, day cares, liquor stores and arcades.

Proposal A’s requirement for Detroit to participate in Michigan’s new medical marijuana licensing still stands.

Colombo’s decision came after the city argued in a Friday filing to throw out the proposals, saying it was illegal to change zoning through a voter initiative.

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.”

Jonathan Barlow, spokesman for Citizens for Sensible Cannibas that petitioned for the voter initiatives last year and was the defendant in the city’s filing, said the ruling is going against what voters in Detroit wanted. Barlow said he hasn’t decided whether to appeal Colombo’s ruling.

“The city is not honoring the will of the people by their statements both in and out of court,” Barlow said. “If they ever had intent on helping minorities enter into the market, it’s been shot by their lack of support.”

Councilman James Tate, who opposed the proposed zoning changes, said he doesn’t believe the voter initiatives were the way to allow more Detroiters to enter the medical marijuana industry.

Tate acknowledged that the industry is largely dominated by people from outside Detroit and says he wants to work with interested parties to change the situation.

“Opening it up further does not guarantee that people in the city of Detroit have an opportunity to benefit from this particular industry,” he said. “I would hope that all parties would be willing to sit down and identify how that takes place. Because when you have a ballot initiative that’s trying to put dispensaries next to our day care centers, I think that’s very problematic.”

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

However, Colombo denied those lawsuits Friday morning and offered Detroit an opportunity to challenge the medical marijuana initiatives since the city “agreed with the position of the plaintiff,” he said.

When Detroit submitted its claim that same day, Colombo ruled in favor of the city within a few hours.


Twitter: @NicquelTerry