Editorial: Common-sense Detroit pot rules a good start

The Detroit News

Marijuana dispensaries, commonly called pot shops, have sprung up throughout Detroit in the years since medical marijuana was legalized in Michigan, and local officials are worried about getting too many without a regulatory structure in place.

Council member James Tate introduced legislation last week to limit their number and regulate their operations.

Some of the ordinance’s provisions make sense for Detroit to implement; some of them don’t. But the move speaks to a broader issue, which is that marijuana dispensaries should be regulated uniformly across the state.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Michigan since 2008, but confusion over the law — enacted via ballot proposal — continues to plague medical marijuana patients, growers and caregivers. Dispensaries throughout the state are explicitly unregulated, and measures to control products, packaging and some operations have stalled in Lansing.

Detroit’s approach until now has been rather hands off. No one knows for sure the number of dispensaries in the city, but estimates are between 80 and 100.

Dispensaries have popped up in many other cities throughout the state, often in communities that have already decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug for recreational use. That’s why the state should pursue guidelines that provide safe access and ensure quality for patients.

Tate’s proposal would impose licensing requirements and zoning restrictions on the shops. Licensing makes sense, as nearly every other kind of business establishment must have a license to operate.

Some of the zoning requirements, however, might not be practical for Detroit, where buildings are often present but abandoned or otherwise unused. Obviously the dispensaries should be kept away from school zones. But other restrictions should be narrow, and conform with community comfort.

The ordinance would also establish a minimum age for employees, as well as rules for marijuana use on their premises. Those measures are reasonable.

Shops would be prohibited from operating between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m, and would not be allowed to have drive-thru dispensaries. The idea is to safeguard against abuse, but the rules could also work against those patients who work off-hours or have mobility issues.

Detroit and other cities have to maintain a delicate balance of allowing legitimate medical marijuana patients access to pot, while making sure the dispensaries don’t enable the illegal drug trade.

In addition, proposals to legalize recreational use of medical marijuana are expected on the 2016 ballot, and ordinances should take into account that the landscape could dramatically change.

Absent comprehensive state guidelines, the city is right to figure out sensible regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries. But the state should act.