Few cities have pot laws as licensing requests begin

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — The state will begin accepting license applications Friday for just about every aspect of the medical marijuana business, but not every Michigan city, township or village has yet voted to allow them.

Thirty-three Michigan municipalities have approved ordinances allowing medical marijuana businesses and another 14 have drafted rules but not voted on them yet, according to a California-based company called Weedmaps, which maps dispensary locations for patients.

The 33 communities comprise about 1 percent of the state’s more than 2,500 local municipal governments, according to a list compiled by a medical marijuana cellphone app company.

Under new emergency rules approved by the state, local governments must have an ordinance allowing medical marijuana before the state will grant businesses within their jurisdiction a license to operate legally. Those include growers, transporters and testing facilities.

Detroit, Lansing, Ann Arbor and Flint are among the large cities that have passed ordinances. But smaller communities such as Acme Township outside of Traverse City and the Village of Constantine in southwest Michigan are also trying to get businesses to set up shop.

“I’d rather see it done in a proper manner for medical marijuana,” said Acme Township Supervisor Jay Zollinger.

Zollinger said he and others in the township understood people wanted medical marijuana and they figured the best way to control the coming wave was to embrace it.

“Didn’t we try that once in America with Prohibition? America was still making beer during Prohibition,” he said. “If you’re gonna do something, let’s do it honestly … and have some reasonable control over it.”

Local governments without ordinances don’t have to worry about being left out of the potential marijuana boom. The state will still allow licenses for communities that make rules later and expect the approval process to be ongoing, said David Harns, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

“This will be an ongoing thing, and any locality that joins in … can opt in at that point,” Harns said.

Businesses can also apply on or after Friday to be pre-qualified by the state to do business. They can set up shop when they find a municipality that opted in, he said.

Traverse City leaders have been in continuing talks about how to deal with the state emergency rules allowing medical marijuana dispensaries. Mayor Jim Carruthers said city officials are waiting until the state adopts final rules before making any moves because they fear any local ordinance could be undone by the time that happens.

The final rules would require the approval of the Legislature.

“It’s a natural medicine as I see it. We really want to have something a little more concrete from the state of Michigan … without having to then turn around and change them if the state should change their minds,” Carruthers said.

It has been unclear since voters approved a 2008 referendum allowing marijuana for medical use what the state’s law permitted. In 2013, the Michigan Supreme Court decided that dispensaries are illegal.

But LARA this year adopted emergency rules that allow existing dispensaries to temporarily continue doing business so long as a local government has already given its blessing. That includes dispensaries in Ann Arbor, Detroit and Lansing.

Detroit voters approved ballot proposals in November that loosened an ordinance that has resulted in 186 dispensaries shutting down.

The village of Kingsley, near Traverse City, also approved an ordinance to allow medical marijuana, but a major company that had proposed a $20 million facility in the village recently backed out of plans after investors grew leery, according to the Traverse City Record Eagle. Other municipalities offered better incentive deals to locate there, TheraCann’s U.S. Operations President Richard Goodman told the publication.

Traverse City and the broader Grand Traverse County have recently cracked down on pot shops, closing all eight of the county’s dispensaries.