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Detroit councilman seeks clarity on dispensaries

Derek Draplin
The Detroit News

A Detroit city councilman, worried about an influx of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, wants state lawmakers to help give local governments the tools to regulate them.

Since medical marijuana was legalized by voters in 2008, dispensaries have opened up in Detroit at an alarming rate, according to Councilman James Tate.

Tate estimates there are 180 dispensaries in 149 square miles of the city, describing it as an “oversaturation.”

Detroit is “in limbo in terms of our ability to enforce the law” due to the “gray area that doesn’t allow for dispensaries to really exist,” Tate said.

Laws allow registered people to grow and sell medical marijuana but don’t say if dispensaries or provisioning centers can do so.

Tate has been working closely with the Detroit Police Department, the City Planning Commission, the Law Department and the National Patient Rights Association to prepare the city to regulate dispensaries. But first, he said, the state Legislature needs to act.

In December, two lame duck bills died in a Senate committee after being passed in the state House. Tate, who represents Council District 1, hopes to see both bills reintroduced and made into law so medical marijuana dispensaries can be regulated.

“They would clarify the law enough for the city of Detroit,” Tate said.

The City Council’s Legislative Council Division issued a policy briefing outlining changes that would need to be made to Detroit’s city code if the bills are signed into law.

■A House bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike Callton of Barry County, would clarify legal protections for medical marijuana dispensaries, allowing for safer access by patients and regulation by cities.

■An accompanying bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Eileen Kowall of White Lake, would allow patients to consume non-smoking forms of medical marijuana, which are not currently legal.

Callton said he plans to reintroduce his bill next week. He’s still looking for someone in the Senate to take up the non-smoking medical marijuana bill. He said he intends to involve law enforcement groups that had some objections to the legislation.

“I’d like to hear their concerns and see how we can address them,” Callton said.

Chris Lindsey, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said the law needs to be clarified because medical marijuana patients are exposed to legal risk.

“There needs to be a system that provides safe access for patients. Until this is in place, individuals will be vulnerable,” Lindsey said.

The National Patient Rights Association, a Grosse Pointe Farms-based nonprofit that advocates for the rights of medical marijuana patients and providers, has been working closely with Tate and state lawmakers to help draft bills.

“The legislation we’ve been working on gives them the local control they’re looking for,” Robin Schneider, a legislative liaison with the association, said of the Detroit City Council. “It gives control back to the municipalities.

“The goal here is to have better regulated dispensaries and less public nuisance.”