Detroit council sets cap at 75 marijuana centers

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved zoning changes to cap the number of medical marijuana facilities operating in the city at 75 and regulate where they can locate.

Detroit — The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved zoning changes to cap the number of medical marijuana facilities operating in the city at 75 and regulate where they can locate.

The ordinance, which also includes provisions for how large the operations can be, is the latest by Detroit officials to combat a proliferation of so-called pot shops in the city in recent years. 

“The ordinance passed today strikes a good balance that benefits both those who want development in the medical marijuana industry and those who want to preserve the City’s pre-medical marijuana character," Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said after Tuesday's vote.

Detroit City Councilman James Tate first submitted the zoning ordinance changes to Detroit's City Planning Commission in May for review. The proposal was moved to Tuesday's session after several revisions last week in a council subcommittee.

"The zoning, it has more teeth in it now than it once did," added Gregory Pawlowski, a city planning commissioner.

The zoning ordinance changes approved Tuesday will establish rules for facilities in Detroit that grow, test, process, transport and dispense medical marijuana to patients with state-approved medical marijuana cards.

It also will encourage medical marijuana operators to provide community benefits in their licensing operations, city officials have said. 

The changes will not impact state or federal laws regarding marijuana facilities or the possession and use of marijuana. Nor will it close the nearly 60 dispensaries currently operating legally in Detroit on temporary authorization from the city and state, officials have said.

The ordinance establishes new rules clarifying the city's zoning and space regulations clouded by ballot proposals passed by Detroit voters in 2017.  

"In plain speak, the reason why we're doing this now is to ensure we're in compliance with the ballot initiative," Tate noted during Thursday's Planning and Economic Development Committee session. 

The ballot initiatives, officials said, moved the city in-line with state law regarding the licensing and regulation of medical marijuana facilities but left questions about zoning restrictions. The latest proposal aims to clarify the city's spacing and "drug-free zone" requirements, which were amended following the 2017 ballot initiative.

The voter-led ballot proposals approved in November eased restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries in Detroit put in place by the council in March 2016.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Robert Colombo in February overturned one voter initiative that would have changed city zoning laws and rolled back part of another initiative that dealt with distance requirements between the facilities and other dispensaries, parks and day-care centers, liquor stores and arcades.

There are currently dozens of illegal dispensaries in Detroit, officials say, that have been ordered to close by the Michigan Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation.

Garcia last month noted the ordinance will clarify the city’s regulatory role and resolve confusion created by some of the "misguided" zoning restrictions in the ballot initiative. It clarifies Detroit's regulation on medical marijuana activity and allows for all five of the legal uses contemplated by state statute, he said.

Several changes to the zoning plan also were made during the council's Planning and Economic Standing Committee meeting last week. Among them, a provision that clarifies the manner in which one or more medical marijuana facilities can be located together in a single building footprint and language to address size restrictions for grower facilities.

The city's building department will also be required to maintain an updated list of the location of facilities that have received state licenses on its website.