MI: Medical Marijuana Dispensaries In Detroit Can Get Temporary Reprieve

Photo Credit: Anthony Plascencia

Detroit’s 62 medical marijuana dispensaries can get a reprieve and continue to operate after Feb. 15 despite continuing confusion and uncertainty over the city’s medical cannabis ordinances.

As they work through legal challenges to the two ordinances passed by Detroit voters in November, the city will offer the necessary paperwork for dispensary owners to fill out and hand in with their applications for a state license.

The reprieve, however, is temporary and could expire on June 15 if the city hasn’t sorted out the challenge by then.

“We released a list of 62 (dispensary) addresses to the state, letting them know that those locations have received some sort of approval and that they could apply for a license from the state,” said Kim James, spokeswoman for the city.

Those approvals were given before the city’s new ordinances went into effect on Jan. 4. The city won’t be accepting applications under the new ordinances while it’s still facing a legal challenge. But the state will accept the approvals given under the old ordinance so that the businesses can stay open while they’re waiting for the state to complete background checks that are required before a license can be awarded.

Dispensary owners will have to go to the City Clerk’s office with their application for a state license, a photo identification and proof that they represent one of the 62 locations that have received zoning approval from the city. They can get the written “attestation” of that zoning approval from the clerk, which they can then submit to the state with their application for a license.

“We’ll notarize it so they can continue operating those facilities on a temporary basis,” said City Clerk Janice Winfrey.

The old rules in Detroit required that medical marijuana facilities could not be within 1,000 feet of another dispensary, church, day care center, school or park. But when the voters approved two new medical marijuana ordinances in last November’s election, the distance between the dispensaries and churches was reduced from 1,000 to 500 feet and allows dispensaries to operate near schools, day care centers and parks. Many city officials didn’t support the new ordinances, fearing that it would lead to a proliferation of medical pot shops in the city. A group of citizens and a medical marijuana businesses have filed suit over the issue.

The confusion comes just weeks after the state began accepting applications for five categories of medical marijuana licenses — growers, processors, testing facilities, secure transporters and dispensaries. Before a business can get a license, it has to have proof that the city where it wants to locate has an ordinance allowing medical marijuana businesses and that it has received approval from that city.

So far, less than 50 of the state’s 1,773 villages, townships and cities have passed ordinances that will allow for medical marijuana businesses.

The state didn’t want to leave medical marijuana patients in the lurch while they ramped up for licensing, so licensing officials said existing dispensaries operating with approval from cities could stay open as long as they turned in applications for a state license by Feb. 15.

When Detroit said that it wouldn’t accept applications for city approval under the new ordinance until the legal challenges were sorted out, many business owners worried that they’d have to close after Feb. 15. But the solution offered this week will only be temporary, said David Harns, spokesman for the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

“The city has until June 15 to come into compliance with the new state law,” he said, meaning that the city’s ordinance fight has to be over by June 15 or the 62 dispensaries will have to close in mid-June.

Also creating a sense of insecurity for the medical marijuana business in Michigan is a directive from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week, who said the Justice Department is set to roll back a policy implemented during the administration of former President Barack Obama to not challenge state laws that allow people to use pot for medical and recreational uses. The federal government still categorizes marijuana as an illegal drug.

Session’s announcement would give authority to local U.S. attorneys to determine how they’ll enforce marijuana laws in each state. Andrew Byerly Birge, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, offered no comment on how that directive might affect medical marijuana card holders and businesses on the western side of the state.

But Matthew Schneider, the newly appointed interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, which includes Detroit, indicated that medical marijuana enforcement may not be at the top of his list.

“The priorities of this office include combating violent crime, gangs, corruption, and terrorism, and this office will review marijuana cases in terms of where those cases fit within our priorities and our limited federal resources,” he said in a statement. “In every criminal case, we will rely upon the Justice Department’s long-established principles of federal prosecution as all U.S. attorneys have done since 1980.”