Dickens: Enforce Detroit pot laws with care

Jamaine Dickens

Seven years after the passage of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA), the Detroit City Council is currently considering regulation of medical marijuana facilities within its city limits.

With no regulation currently in place, more than 150 medical marijuana facilities, described as unsavory by some, have sprung up throughout Detroit over the past seven years and have caught the attention of non-approving residents who want them gone by any means necessary.

The word ‘marijuana’ speaks so loudly to some that the word ‘medical’ is often muted, despite the fact that it is legal; three out of four Detroit voters approved the MMMA; and thousands of Detroiters who suffer from Parkinson’s and Crohn’s disease, cancer and chronic pain are being treated like “a trash of people” as one self-righteous northwest resident described medical marijuana patients at a recent hearing.

Medical marijuana patients are residents of Detroit, too. And they are suffering enough.

With this ordinance on the fast track for approval, will the Detroit City Council be willing to intentionally misuse zoning rules to make up for the seven years of no rules at all?

Michigan law recognizes these facilities as “medical facilities,” like a clinic, dentist’s office or pharmacy. The City Council is considering a zoning ordinance that treats theses facilities as a “controlled use,” like a strip club, liquor store or adult bookstore. In fact, the proposed ordinance is far more restrictive of these medical facilities than they are of strip clubs and liquor stores.

The industry is not opposed to regulations that are fair and just. No one wants a proliferation of unprofessional and/or unsafe establishments throughout their city, particularly those facilities that don’t add value or play by the rules. But the city already has laws on the books to deal with bad actors.

Instead of decimating an entire industry to eliminate bad actors, the city should enforce the laws it already has to eradicate any illegal activity. If a facility is selling marijuana to a person without a state-issued card and identification, they should be arrested. If they are operating without the necessary permits and approvals from the city, the Building Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department should shut them down.

The city of Detroit is roughly 85 percent African-American and has an activist core that is socially conservative, but clearly not reflective of the general electorate that overwhelmingly voted for the MMMA. Such conservative views coming from that activist core have historically stymied Detroit politicians faced with decisions that require embracing new and emerging industries that are not connected to traditional values, and were once easy to reject. In recent history, it was casinos, then strip clubs. The city took them on and lost. Now it is medical marijuana facilities.

The City Council shouldn’t ignore the law to create a law because it has failed to enforce existing law.

Jamaine Dickens is a principal at DMC Strategies, a public affairs firm in Detroit that represents one of the city’s medical marijuana centers.