Medical Marijuana Ordinance Makes for Motown Mayhem

By: Paul Natinsky

Detroit’s March 2016 ordinance requiring medical marijuana dispensaries to become licensed and geographically separated from one another, liquor stores, churches, schools and other facilities and enterprises has spawned a crush of closures, applications and appeals as dispensaries move to meet the city’s requirements.

“The situation right now is that they are denying people, they are not giving them variances. The ordinance allowed for variances, and variances are not being granted,” said George Brikho, who operates Evergreen Management and Government Services, a firm that engages in lobbying and other advocacy activities.

The ordinance, passed in the fall of 2015 and enacted in March 2016, required medical marijuana shops in Detroit to pass a police background check, not operate drive-through operations or 24 hours, submit to an inspection and be at least 1,000 feet from the list of entities described above. The costs of inspection and licensing are estimated at about $1,100. None of the shops are “grandfathered” under the ordinance, so all have to apply for licenses and pass inspections.

Specifically, centers must submit documentation and undergo a site plan review, public hearing over land use and secure a certificate of occupancy, business licensing and inspections and clear other hurdles, according to the Detroit News report. According to the report, the requirements also cover site and security plans, insurance, lighting and parking specifications; and licenses must be renewed annually.

The Detroit News stated there were 283 dispensaries throughout Detroit when the city began accepting more than 260 applications for licensure. The News reported March 17 that two shops to date had been approved, 136 closed down and 115 in various stages of the application process.

In a February 2016 interview with the Chaldean News, Brikho estimated 90 percent of dispensaries in the Tri-County area were Chaldean-owned. “I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s a race thing, that they have a thing against people in (the Chaldean) community,” said Brikho about current variance denials.

Robin Schneider, executive director of the National Patient Rights Association, told the Detroit News that some applicants have been turned down because they are located near long-closed former schools or child care buildings.

Brikho cites the example of one distributor he knows, whose shop was too close to a liquor store. He said the owner bought and closed down the liquor store, but was subsequently denied a license on the premise that he might at some time re-open the liquor store.

“The BZA (Board of Zoning Appeals) needs to be more educated, “ Brikho said. “The city of Detroit needs to have a seat with the community and shareholders in this industry.”

Brikho said the dispensaries have “cleaned up the city of Detroit,” raised property values, cleaned up blight and paid the back-taxes on the properties from which they operate. “The city of Detroit needs to get its act together and not close doors in the face of business owners,” he said.

If proprietors are dissatisfied with BZA decisions, their next stop it circuit court.

Detroit Corporation Counsel Melvin Butch Hollowell told the Detroit News that the zoning legislation will permit about 50 shops overall and doesn’t think restrictions will lead to hardships as centers are cordoned into heavily commercial or industrial areas and away from neighborhoods.

Brikho said his hope is that every case will be approached with an open mind and not predisposition to deny approval.  “The BZA need to loosen up a little bit because they are causing harm to patients as well as business owners.” He also cautioned that the city of Detroit would be foregoing taxes the businesses would pay.