Pubdate: Wed, 14 Jan 2015
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Copyright: 2015 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel
Column: Higher Ground


Things are heating up in Detroit regarding the proliferation of 
medical marijuana storefronts in the city. Some citizens are alarmed 
at the number they see popping up in their neighborhoods.

"It is a hornet's nest of a topic," says City Councilmember James 
Tate, who represents District 1 on the west side.

Due to citizen comments at meetings in his district, Tate is willing 
to brave the hornets in order to try to regulate a nascent industry 
that no one seems to have a handle on. No one else on council seems 
to be addressing it. There was legislation on the table in Lansing 
last year (HB 4271) that would have allowed local municipalities to 
decide for themselves, but that was left to die when the session ended.

Many cities, including Detroit, were waiting to see what guidance 
came from the state before they began to move on their own. Now there 
is a void that has Tate gingerly walking through the hornets to see 
what needs to be done.

"We did a tour around the district," Tate says. "I was able to 
visibly see 13 alleged dispensaries inside of District 1. It was kind 
of alarming only because I didn't see as many a few months earlier. I 
got a few calls, not a waterfall of calls. I'm trying to head off 
problems. These issues always start with a trickle."

We'll see if that trickle turns into something bigger. Winfred 
Blackmon from the Schaefer 7/8 Lodge Association called a meeting of 
community organizations last weekend to assess a response to the 
growing presence of marijuana storefronts. I wasn't welcome to 
attend. Blackmon didn't want to say anything publicly as he builds a 
coalition, but did say there would be a press conference when they 
are organized and have a strategy. Based on what I'm hearing from 
others, Blackmon is hot about the dispensaries. No surprise, he's the 
catalyst pulling this together.

Charles Harvey, vice president of MacDowell Community Council Inc., 
was invited. He is concerned about the issue, but he wants to tap the 
mood of his neighbors.

"It's drugs right in the middle of the community, and we got a lot of 
young people that are acting wild around here already," says Harvey. 
"If people want medical marijuana in the neighborhood then we'll have 
it. If they don't want it then we won't have it. What I've heard so 
far is they don't really want it. I just have a concern about that 
because I've seen some effects of marijuana. We'll have to look at 
how we get rid of it."

Good luck. I'm sure there are plenty of places in their neighborhood 
that aren't stores where people can buy marijuana and no one is 
asking for their state certification card. The storefront businesses 
are visible and make easy targets.

No one seems to know exactly how many dispensaries are in Detroit, 
but Tate estimates that there are 180 of them. The one that seems to 
have kicked off concerns from Blackmon is on Seven Mile Road, not far 
from the Home Depot on Seven and Meyers. I drove by. The not-yet-open 
storefront is painted a dark green with small glass block windows in 
the shape of a cross. The rest of the buildings on the strip all look 
empty and decrepit. It seems that some economic activity on the block 
would be welcome, but folks are concerned about potential problems. 
Although the complaints are general, not specific.

"Nobody has been able to say this terrible thing happened because 
this terrible place was here," says Pam Weinstein, who lives in the 
Grandmont-Rosedale area and attended Tate's October meeting. "People 
are very uncomfortable with this; they're alarmed about the number of 
these stores. I don't think any of us that voted for medical 
marijuana envisioned this."

Concern is elevated and a lot of heavy hitters attended the meeting, 
although marijuana stores were not the only issue on the agenda. City 
Corporation Counsel Butch Hollowell was there, as well as 
Southfield-based attorney Michael Komorn (president of the Michigan 
Medical Marijuana Association), and representatives from the city 
land use department, Detroit police, and the National Patients Rights 
Association. Mostly what took place was education about the medical 
marijuana law and fearful venting from community members. But their 
fears were more general, not specific.

"I have not gotten from any police source that there is any rash of 
crime happening around these facilities," says Tate

One reason dispensaries locate in Detroit is that they can. Wayne and 
Washtenaw counties are relatively marijuana-friendly, and Oakland 
County is definitely not. Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard was 
a key figure in scuttling the proposed state law that died in December.

Dispensaries or provisioning centers or compassion clubs - whatever 
you want to call them - seem to exist in a legal phantom zone. 
They're not quite legal but they're not quite illegal either. 
Complaints about them have bounced back and forth between the police 
and the Department of Building Safety with no clear jurisdiction. 
There is no specific city permit for a medical marijuana facility. 
Many businesses can get a certificate of occupancy to do retail 
business without having to tell the city exactly what kind of retail 
they intend to engage in. And even if officials want to, the city 
doesn't seem to be able to walk in and stop anything.

"When we take these businesses to court they just get tied up and 
they just stay there," says Tate. "Nothing has been shut down."

Tate's office is digging into it but he doesn't have any specific 
proposals yet. Many concerned folks want the locations zoned so they 
can't be just anywhere, citing proximity to schools, churches, and 
day care centers. But Tate is the only council member doing anything 
visible. And he was counting on the state to step up in the last session.

"Once again the legislative process has disappointed many," says 
attorney Matt Abel, director of the Michigan chapter of the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "They didn't even have 
the courage to vote against it; wouldn't even put it up for a vote."

It's possible that the state could act soon, but it's not probable. 
Some activists are considering trying to get some type of initiative 
question added to the spring ballot that will decide a proposed sales 
tax increase to fix the roads. Chances for that are slim too. It will 
be worked out eventually, but there's a lot that has to happen along the way.

"I understand the concerns of the community," says Komorn. "I walked 
away from [Tate's meeting] thinking that there needs to be a lot more 
education about why the War on Drugs is lost and why they should want 
these places. If they are regulated, you're going to want these in 
your community. It brings jobs - people are working, earning wages."

The fact that these are medical marijuana facilities seems to get 
lost. Some people see marijuana of any kind, and the alarms start 
going off. That seems to be a reflection of the old Reefer Madness 
mindset. At the same time, we don't necessarily need them on every 
corner. That's got to be worked out. - mt
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom