In a 6-1 vote Thursday, December 17, Detroit City Council passed a restrictive zoning ordinance for medical marijuana establishments within the city. Councilman Scott Benson was the only member to vote no to the proposal. Benson had offered up an amendment to limit storefronts to only Detroit’s industrial areas but his amendment was defeated 4-3. Under this new ordinance, no marijuana establishment will be allowed to exist within 1,000 feet from a church, school, park, liquor store, other marijuana storefront, city-defined drug-free zone, library, or other deemed zones.
Community members, patients, and even some dispensary owners want to see reasonable regulation for safe access centers. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you reading this have seen a facility or behavior that has made you cringe. But this is not isolated only to marijuana storefronts; I have seen gas stations, liquor stores, and car dealers that have brought about the same effect.
Anything that has to do with Marijuana issues tends to bring out large groups of citizens whether it be for voting or zoning, and this time was no different. Hundreds of people from all walks of life showed up at the Coleman Young Municipal Center, including neighborhood group leaders, pastors, store owners, and many patients. With over 100 citizens speaking out, the public hearing on Thursday lasted over four hours.
Of those supporting strict regulation, the church leaders were the loudest. Last week, several area pastors spoke out against dispensaries in Detroit. The day before the hearing, I spoke with Pastor Reed of Spirit of Love Church, a 20,000-square-foot facility with roughly 150 members.
Though he denied that his group ever used the word ‘war’, he was certainly opposed to their very existence. “I can’t blame the dispensaries for opening. They had a green light to do so and nobody stopped them.” It’s really the city government he is upset with. One of his biggest concerns is the community atmosphere. “I did not want this area by my church to turn into an atmosphere of a liquor store” – one where people hang around outside getting high. Pastor Reed said he first noticed the problem in November 2013 and his resolve is strong.
During the hearing you could hear both sides clash as the crowd would boo or cheer for the points that were made. Some of the complaints were clearly bred out of “Reefer Madness” with concerns that too many people would become addicted and go crazy. Some people had reasonable points and concerns like worries of what would happen with no regulation whatsoever, the presence of huge abrasive signage, and public safety in and around storefronts.
Councilman James Tate, who led the push for this regulation, said he reached out and talked with people who had concerns before Thursday’s vote. This was not a quick and easy procedure.
The proposal itself changed many times throughout the process. One big change was the amount of variance allowed under the new law. Originally the language only allowed up to 20% variance but the final bill allows up to 100% variance. All variances will be decided by the Board of Zoning Appeals who will make the final decisions. This means that essentially a church and a marijuana store can be side-by-side as long as all parties involved can agree, including the Board of Zoning Appeals. The simple adage “Love thy neighbor” could help us all overcome so many obstacles.
I spoke with Jamie Lowell, who helped start Citizens for Sensible Cannabis Reform, about the next step for cannabis advocates. Lowell says that collecting 4,043 signatures from registered voters of the city of Detroit within 30 days could stop the enactment of the zoning ordinance with a referendum. He hopes that a referendum would push the city to create more cannabis-friendly ordinance. If you don’t think this ordinance helps the patients or the city, or if you oppose the ordinance, don’t worry because it’s not over yet. You can sign the referendum. More info can be found by calling Greg Pawloski at (313)523-5424. He is one of three board members listed for Citizens for Sensible Cannabis Reform, the other two being Tom Lavigne & Tyson Kelley. Alternatively, there could be future plans for an initiative to take it to the voters.
Photo by Eric at Uptown Meds in Detroit.