Freeze on new Detroit pot shops goes into effect

Detroit Free Press |

--A moratorium prohibiting new medical marijuana facilities from opening in Detroit for nearly six months went into effect Wednesday.

A spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan confirmed to the Free Press that the mayor signed the resolution early Wednesday, a day after the Detroit City Council voted in favor of the 180-day moratorium. The city council cited legal challenges and concerns raised about two voter-approved initiatives that were set to relax local control this year.

The moratorium follows a Michigan Court of Appeals decision last Friday ordering Detroit to accept applications ahead of a state deadline for applicants who are operating under a temporary operation aspect of emergency rules.

Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs spokesman David Harns said yesterday in a statement that, "LARA cannot extend the deadline (to submit applications) but we will accept relevant court orders in lieu of the attestation in situations where ongoing litigation is delaying medical marijuana applicants from getting their local attestations."

Councilman James Tate, who drafted the resolution with the city's law department, said in a memo obtained by the Free Press that he's also working to develop new ordinances that would "regulate both licensing and zoning for medical marijuana facilities and medical marijuana caregiver centers."

The initiatives, which were approved by 60% of voters, eliminate the authority of the city Board of Zoning Appeals to review dispensary applications; allow dispensaries to open within 500 feet of another dispensary; allow dispensaries to open within 500 feet of religious institutions, and eliminate the requirement that the city hold public hearings and solicit public comment on proposals to open dispensaries.

In addition, they establish a process for licensing dispensaries that bypasses the Detroit City Council and opts into the licensing regulations issued by the state.

But late last year, the City Council pushed the city's legal department to challenge the proposals, saying both measures contain improper and potentially illegal zoning language.

The two proposals were set to have a wide-ranging impact on the city. In 2016, the city adopted an initial ordinance -- which took effect -- that made it more difficult for marijuana dispensaries to operate in the city.

Since the original ordinance took effect, the city has shut down more than 186 of the 283 dispensaries that had been selling medical marijuana.

Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said Tuesday that the legal framework behind processing applications is currently "under a cloud" because of ongoing litigation.

Garcia said the city has received "dozens and dozens" of new business applications already but said none can be approved since the rules are in flux. According to the resolution authorizing the moratorium, at least 14 lawsuits have been filed in Wayne County Circuit Court seeking to order the city to grant licenses.

Garcia told the Free Press in an e-mail late Tuesday that about 70 medical marijuana caregiver center applicants have received zoning approvals from the city for use as a medical marijuana facility.

"Upon request, the city is completing attestation forms (for continued operation) for those 70 locations," Garcia said. "Those forms can be filed with the State of Michigan to receive licenses from Lansing. Theoretically, that would make those locations official medical marijuana facilities under statute."

But beyond that, Garcia said there are no facilities in existence that are in compliance.

"The initiatives created an untenable and confusing state of affairs and the legal process of working through that takes some time," Garcia wrote.

Michael Stein, a Bloomfield Hills attorney for several businesses hoping to get a medical marijuana license in Detroit, called the moratorium "absolutely ridiculous" and said he's prepared to launch a legal battle against it.

"I'm not surprised because at every step along the way, the City of Detroit, whether it be through the Board of Zoning Appeals, City Council or the Law Department, has attempted to subvert the will of the people," Stein said. "If the City of Detroit was looking to engage in a protracted legal battle with the opposite side of this, that's what they're going to get. We will respond accordingly."

Contact Katrease Stafford@freepress.com or 313-223-4759.

Reporter Kathleen Gray contributed to this report.

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