Editorial: Don’t block Detroit access to medical pot

The Detroit News

A regulatory framework for medical marijuana dispensaries that have proliferated in Detroit makes sense. But that framework shouldn’t needlessly shut down businesses that aren’t a threat, and it shouldn’t insert more confusion into the state’s already vague medical marijuana law.

The medical marijuana industry is growing in Detroit and throughout Michigan, and the city shouldn’t prematurely squash the economic boost it offers — jobs, income and much-needed tax revenue. And over-regulating risks pushing activity back into the black market.

There’s room to improve the regulations, which passed the City Council late last year and took effect March 1. As they stand, the zoning regulations imposed on dispensaries operating in Detroit are excessively limiting.

Centers are banned from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, arcades, parks, party stores, child care facilities, churches, public housing and other dispensaries. Some of those, like schools, are drug-free zones, and it makes sense the shops not be allowed to operate there.

But businesses such as liquor stores and arcades litter Detroit. It seems onerous dispensaries aren’t allowed to operate near them.

And while many churches seem to dislike dispensaries near them, these businesses at least offer lawful economic activity in areas that often need it.

Cursory analysis of how the roughly 200 dispensaries in the city pair up with zoning regulations show the vast majority of shops won’t pass the current regulations. In some cases, that will be merited, but in others, common sense should trump the letter of the regulations and the city should allow variances.

Many of the shops are in buildings that were previously just vacant structures, according to a survey by Loveland Technologies of Detroit’s dispensary industry. Surely vacant structures threaten Detroit’s safety more than medical marijuana dispensaries.

City Council members, top officials at the Detroit Police Department, the city’s top lawyer Melvin Butch Hollowell and others have been vague on how regulations will be enforced beginning in April, and some have said shops that contest the regulations will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. While that’s certainly better than banning them outright, it’s hard to imagine these rulings won’t be at all subjective.

Mayor Mike Duggan expressed his clear distaste for the industry during his State of the City address, which puts these business owners already at a disadvantage.

Further, as the Legislature keeps trying to more clearly define the industry in the state and arguably protect patients’ safe access to medical marijuana, Detroit should try to keep its regulations in line.

Right now the Detroit ordinance conflicts with proposed legislation before the Senate. The bill, which has passed the House, says state-registered marijuana caregivers can be workers at, but not owners of, these businesses. The Detroit regulations state the opposite, that the owner, operator and all employees at a center must be card holding, registered caregivers.

Michigan is moving toward a broader medical marijuana industry. A February economic analysis says medical marijuana could generate revenues between $44.3 million and $63.5 million per year in the state, and could also create about 10,000 jobs.

Detroit needs that money and those jobs, and it shouldn’t needlessly scare away both.