Caregiver sues Pontiac for delaying medical marijuana applications

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
Medical marijuana caregiver Robert Sinclair (left) with his attorney, Joseph Xuereb. Sinclair, a resident of Pontiac, is suing the city for not accepting medical marijuana business applications within 60 days of voter approving an initiative to do so.

Pontiac —  A resident is suing the city for failing to accept applications for medical marijuana businesses after a voter-led initiative passed by a single vote in August.

Robert Sinclair, a resident of Pontiac and medical marijuana caregiver, has filed a lawsuit claiming the City Council violated the city's charter by passing a 90-day moratorium to extend the 60 days it had to pass a zoning ordinance and accept applications for medical marijuana dispensaries. That deadline now is Friday instead of Nov. 12. Sinclair fears it will be extended again.

Joseph Xuereb, Sinclair's attorney,  said the city's charter bans voter-adopted ordinances from being repealed or amended until 1½ years after being passed.

"It's been months since then," said Xuereb. "This can't be pushed off anymore. They need to do their job and get this moving forward."

Sinclair said he hopes to open a dispensary or work for one. The initiative voters passed,by 3,896 to 3,895, allows up to 20 medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

"I don't understand the backlash," Sinclair said. "This is something we voted upon, and we got approved by the city. It seems like the mayor is kind of dragging her feet on all of this. ... It deprives us of the ability to get a job in this industry."

Sinclair said he has not had conversations with any city officials or attempted to apply to operate a dispensary in the city.

Xuereb said his client seeks to have the moratorium declared to be in violation of the charter and for the city clerk to begin accepting applications.

Mayor Deirdre Waterman said the city's Planning Commission will propose its recommendation on medical marijuana business zoning to the City Council on Tuesday.

"The complaint seems to allege that the passage of the referendum, which the city has every intent in compiling to, was not eligible to have a 90-day moratorium," Waterman said. "The original 60 days was not enough to work through the zoning ordinance amendment as well as to hear from all the residents and businesses, and determine what was best of for the city of Pontiac."

On the recommendation of the city attorney, Waterman said, the City Council approved the extension. She added that a number of other Michigan communities have implemented similar moratoriums and that the City Clerk's Office is working to begin accepting applications Friday.

That would be good news for Tim Shepard, a real estate developer in Pontiac with eight properties in the city who voiced his support Monday for Sinclair's lawsuit, which he filed Friday in Oakland Circuit Court. Shepard said he hopes dispensaries could bring hundreds of people to Pontiac's downtown, especially since so few Oakland County municipalities have opted in.

"It's not going to solve everything, but it's an opportunity for Pontiac," Shepard said. "This will create a destination."