After more than four hours of legal and council discussion and dozens of city resident comments, the Detroit City Council on Thursday evening approved by a vote of 6-1 a zoning ordinance that experts say could close up to half of the city’s medical marijuana dispensaries.
The ordinance is effective March 1 2016.
Detroit City Councilman Scott Benson was the dissenting vote.
After heated debate over whether to include or eliminate certain commercial districts from the ordinance, the council voted not to eliminate B2 and B4 zoning districts, which include strip centers and individual stores, thereby allowing dispensaries to locate in those districts.
In addition to these commercial districts, dispensaries are allowed to locate in four types of industrial zones.
The zoning ordinance, originally created by Detroit City Councilman James Tate earlier this year, dictates that a dispensary within these designated zones be:
- 1,000 feet from Drug Free Zones including arcades, child care centers, educational institutions, libraries, outdoor recreation facilities, schools and youth activity centers.
- 1,000 feet from another medical marijuana caregiver center.
- 1,000 feet from a controlled use.
- 1,000 feet from a park under the jurisdiction and control of the city recreation department.
- 1,000 feet from a religious institution that is exempt via the city assessor.
Council also agreed to get rid of a variance of up to 20 percent on these 1,000-foot distances. Under that variance, a dispensary could ask the zoning board of appeals to approve a location 800 feet (20 percent less than 1,000 feet) from off-limit properties.
The ordinance now allows a dispensary to ask for a variance up to 100 percent. This means dispensaries could end up being located directly next to properties deemed off-limits, if given the go-ahead by the appeals board.
Council members said the dispensaries will be held to tighter business regulations, including obtaining building permits, inspections, and criminal background and tax delinquency checks.
Given the new zoning regulations, city attorneys came up with 651 parcels that would qualify as a site for a dispensary. The majority of the sites, 513, are in B4 zoning districts.
Detroit has more than 150 medical marijuana dispensaries. Matthew Abel, a Detroit-based criminal defense attorney with the Cannabis Counsel and an activist for changes in marijuana laws, predicted that at least half of the dispensaries will close because of the tighter zoning rules.
The ordinance’s requirement that there be one off-street parking space for every 200 square feet of the center could also negatively impact dispensary business, he said.
Tim Beck, chairman of The Safer Michigan Coalition, a group that helped get medical marijuana legalized in 18 Michigan cities, also said he would guess about 50 percent of the Detroit dispensaries will go out of business as a result of the new ordinance.
“In 2012, 65 percent of Detroiters voted to legalize marijuana. Many of the people who commented do not represent the mainstream person in the city of Detroit,” he said.
More than 300 people attended the public hearing, and nearly 100 gave their opinion on the controversial ordinance. Many favored passage of the ordinance, but wanted even greater restrictions. Dispensary owners and medical marijuana patients were passionate about how much the drug helps them or their small children cope with illness.
The state Legislature was considering a series of bills that would regulate medical marijuana production and sale in Michigan. It opted to not take action until early 2016.