Hearing March 2 to weigh pot retailer's TRO request in Royal Oak

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — The debate over recreational marijuana in Royal Oak is flaring again amid debate over how the city handles applicants, legal challenges and opposition from a school district and residents. 

Two of nearly three dozen applicants hoping to become one of Royal Oak’s first marijuana retailers have filed in Oakland Circuit Court seeking preliminary injunctions in an attempt to stop the city from approving any more special use permit applications for the facilities. 

Oakland Circuit Judge Rae Lee Chabot was expected to consider a marijuana retailer's injunction request on March 2.

In separate complaints, Birmingham-based Quality Roots and Attitude Wellness of Troy want the city prevented from considering any more applicants after two companies with much less experience were recently selected for review, the first step in obtaining a special use permit for a marijuana facility.

The lawsuit alleges violation of city and state ordinances, that sessions were conducted in secret in violation of the Open Meetings Act, with no prior notice or minutes.

Attitude Wellness is part of Lume Cannabis Co., which has 30 marijuana retailers across Michigan, filed for a preliminary injunction on Feb. 18, attorney Kevin Blair said.

“Lume Cannabis Co. is the state’s leading cannabis company with a proven track record of providing high-quality, safe and rigorously tested cannabis at affordable prices for Michigan patients and consumers,” said Blair, who represents Lume and requested an injunction.

In his filing, Brian Etzel, an attorney for Quality Roots, alleged: “To make up for their lack of experience and qualifications, Gatsby (Cannabis) and Royal Treatment each hired a former elected official — former mayor Dennis Cowan and former City Commissioner James Rasor —as its respective representative and consultant for lobbying city officials.”

A city spokesperson, Judy Davids, referred questions tocity manager Paul Brake or city attorney Aaron Leal. Leal referred questions to Brake, who declined to comment on the allegations or lawsuits. 

In an earlier interview this month, Brake said no applicant received special consideration nor did any elected official request special attention for an applicant. He described the Planning Commission’s role in the special-permit process as advisory and that any final decision is made by the elected City Commission.

Etzel said Wednesday he has not received a hearing date from Chabot but “would expect these might be taken up at the same time because the facts are identical."

Meanwhile, Oakland Schools had hoped to go before the city’s Planning Commission as soon as possible to bar it from considering more special-use permits near its schools in the city.  One proposed site, within 88 feet of a vocational school by Gatsby, failed to get a recommendation from the commission for a permit. But Gatsby can seek a review from the commission.

The next commission meeting is set for Feb. 28.

Brake said Wednesday the agenda for the upcoming City Commission meeting "has nothing regarding" Gatsby or Royal Treatment marijuana applications.

On Tuesday, school Superintendent Wanda Cook-Robinson sent an email alert to parents, similar to a “Call To Action" she issued earlier this month before the Planning commission voted on the Gatsby proposal. Dozens of parents showed up for the city hall meeting to voice their opposition. 

"Oakland Schools' priority is the health and well-being of our students," Cook-Robinson wrote this week. "Approving the request by Gatsby Cannabis Co. would set a dangerous precedent."

“It is the expectation of Oakland Schools that the City Commission vote to accept the recommendation of the Planning Commission as Timothy Thwing, city community director, recently stated in a publication that it is rare for the City Commission to vote against planning commissioners' recommendations."

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

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