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Detroit puts zoning restrictions on medical pot dispensaries

Dec 17, 2015

Credit Dominic Simpson / flickr

The Detroit City Council has voted to restrict where medical marijuana dispensaries can operate in the city.

The Council passed a new zoning ordinance Thursday night. It approved another ordinance with dispensary licensing and inspection regulations in October.

The new rules limit dispensaries to certain industrial and business zones. They also set spacing regulations, and with limited exceptions ban them within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, and other designated “drug-free” zones.

The laws come after months of heated debate, and what many Detroiters call an “invasion” of unregulated, and in some cases unscrupulous, dispensaries throughout the city.

Marcus Cummings with the Metropolitan Detroit Community Action Coalition, which helped draft part of the ordinance, says some kind of regulation is badly needed.

“We’re not trying to deny access,” Cummings said. “But right now, it is the wild wild west out there when it comes to medical marijuana.”

Prior to the Council vote, many residents expressed resentment that Detroit had become what some called a “dumping ground” for barely-disguised recreational pot shops with names like Starbuds and 420Dank. They maintained that many serve clients from nearby suburbs that either banned or strictly limited dispensaries.

It’s likely that many of the 150 or more dispensaries now in the city will eventually have to shut down.

The city is taking the position that existing shops are operating “unlawfully,” though Police Chief James Craig said police won’t “arbitrarily” go after dispensaries, just those in clear violation of the law.

Dispensary owners argued that the new ordinances are too strict, putting an unfair burden on them and denying medical marijuana patients access to their medicine.

Council member James Tate, who spearheaded the ordinances, says the city is trying to balance genuine medical needs with community concerns.

“We’ve got to strike some kind of balance between those who want none, and those who want us to do nothing,” Tate said. “Nothing’s perfect, but I think we’re [going] in the right direction.”

The ordinance takes effect March 1.