Council approves licensing rules for medical pot shops

By Christine Ferretti The Detroit News

Detroit — The City Council on Tuesday approved a long-awaited ordinance that sets strict licensing requirements for Detroit’s medical marijuana centers.

The measure passed by a 6-1 vote and over the dramatic protest of the council’s second highest ranking member who made a failed bid for a delay. Members Mary Sheffield and Scott Benson were not present for the vote.

President Pro Tem George Cushingberry said he wanted to offer amendments to the plan and argued Tuesday that a vote on the proposal that will impact thousands of people should be suspended until outstanding concerns are sorted out. He’s previously argued in favor of drive-thru services and 24-hour operations.

“What are we doing here,” he said. “This to me is a rush to judgment.”

But others, including Councilman James Tate, who spearheaded the ordinance and Councilwoman Janee Ayers countered Cushingberry, noting that discussion has been underway for months as have opportunities for suggested changes.

“We owe it to the residents of the city of Detroit to answer their concerns,” said Ayers, adding residents have long urged the council to act. “I do not feel like this is something we’re trying to force feed anybody.”

The “Medical Marihuana Caregiver Centers” proposal, crafted by Tate, was introduced earlier this month with components that seek to establish rules for licensing and zoning for the facilities, that up until now, had operated without any formal restrictions.

The zoning ordinance was not voted on Tuesday. The city Planning Commission will discuss it Thursday and it could be voted on later this fall. The licensing ordinance won’t be published until the zoning requirements are also approved.

The ordinance seeks to limit hours, impose inspections and licensing requirements and ban drive-thru windows. The zoning amendment being considered specifies where the centers can locate.

The licensing measure was moved to the full panel after a lengthy subcommittee meeting Monday in which those favoring the plan urged the council to move forward with adopting the rules, while some opponents argued the city should ban the centers.

Earlier Tuesday, a number of residents said they were afraid the shops would proliferate and urged officials to prevent further operations from opening while the laws are pending.

Beverly Kindle-Walker told council members residents have been circulating a petition in support of amoratorium.

“Right now, they are next to each other, across the street from each other, it’s not right,” she said.

Gregory M. Pawlowski, a representative of Americans for Safe Access Michigan, encouraged the council to postpone action on the ordinance and continue the discussion.

“There’s obviously a lot of miseducation, a lot of fear and misunderstanding about what cannabis can actually do for people,” he said.

The proposed regulations don’t set a cap on the number of pot shops permitted in Detroit, but will not allow for grandfathering existing and future dispensaries operating in Detroit.

The state of Michigan has also been weighing new legislation for medical marijuana.

The bills, containing tighter rules than in failed 2014 proposals and an 8-percent excise tax on gross retail income of provisioning centers, is a compromise plan designed to overcome law enforcement opposition.