Pubdate: Wed, 13 Apr 2016
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Copyright: 2016 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Tom Perkins


The Family Trees dispensary near Seven Mile and Plainview sits within 
eyeshot of a vacant liquor store and small storefront church, which 
are less than 1,000 feet away.

As of April 1, that means Family Trees is breaking the law. While the 
business has provided marijuana to patients at the location for two 
years without incident, owner Reginald Venoy, like many of Detroit's 
dispensary operators, faces an uncertain future.

Will the police kick down his door and seize his marijuana and 
assets? Or will he answer a knock at the door to find he's being 
served? Or will nothing happen?

After months of anticipation and hand wringing over a confrontation 
between the city of Detroit and several hundred dispensary owners, 
the two sides fired their first shots last week.

But the next chapter mostly won't include the aggressive, dramatic 
police raids some feared. It will instead play out slowly in Wayne 
County Circuit Court. The April 1 deadline for dispensaries to file 
their applications with the city passed, and several cases have 
already landed on judges' dockets.

Butch Hollowell, the city's chief attorney, assures the Metro Times a 
lawsuit his office filed against the Amsterdam of Detroit dispensary 
on Seven Mile is "the first of many more to come," and that suit 
reveals the city's blueprint for handling incompliant dispensaries.

In the suit, Hollowell asks a judge to declare Amsterdam of Detroit a 
public nuisance because it's in a drug-free zone that's 1,000 feet 
from a day care, and Hollowell wants the judge to order it "padlocked 
and shuttered."

The city was also on the other side of a lawsuit, and could soon be 
defending itself in a second. A judge dismissed the first case Friday 
after the plaintiffs, 10 dispensary owners who claimed their 
businesses should be grandfathered, dropped the suit.

"We are confident that the city's medical marijuana regulations are 
lawful, fair, and reasonable," says city communications director John 
Roach in a statement. "We will continue to enforce compliance in the 
courts, while concurrently processing the applications submitted for 
medical marijuana caregiver center licenses."

Another suit filed by Sons of Hemp and eight other plaintiffs also 
asks a circuit court judge to essentially grandfather their 
businesses. They also allege their 14th Amendment religious freedoms 
are violated. Hollowell says the city has yet to be served.

At stake in court is the fate of more than half of approximately 225 
dispensaries operating in Detroit. Dispensary owners and activists 
say the ordinance is extreme and will needlessly decimate a thriving 
business community that provides a much-needed health service.

That's an issue to Venoy, who expresses frustration over being 
labeled a "nuisance." He also questions the sense in shutting down a 
strong business over a nearby storefront church and derelict liquor store.

"We're thriving businesses and people need their medicine, so why 
shut down something that's helping people and the community?" Venoy 
asks. "And a liquor store has more crime, but they're allowed to stay 
open even though there haven't been many crimes at dispensaries 
throughout the city - a few break-ins, but that happens almost 
anywhere in Detroit.

"So why would you want to shut down a thriving business to make 
another hundred buildings vacant? That don't make sense."

Dispensary and grow operation owners across the state have asked the 
same questions in recent years as Michigan's local municipalities 
quilted a constellation of laws to address the facilities. The 2008 
Michigan Medical Marihuana Act allows caretakers to provide 12 plants 
for up to five patients, plus another 12 plants for themselves - 72 
in total. But the law does not address the possibility of retail 
sales, dispensaries, or caregiver centers.

In Detroit, police mostly left dispensaries to operate freely, 
despite a state Supreme Court ruling in 2013 that allows medical 
marijuana dispensaries to be declared a public nuisance.

The ordinances allow facilities in B2 and B4 zones, as well as M1 
through M4. In addition, the zoning ordinance requires dispensaries 
to operate 1,000 feet from arcades, liquor stores, other 
dispensaries, child care centers, libraries, outdoor recreation 
facilities, schools, and other institutions.

Operating in violation of the zoning rules is a misdemeanor 
punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a $500 fine.

The regulatory ordinance - which is separate from the zoning 
ordinance - requires the business owners to apply for a license after 
their zoning is approved.

Under the zoning laws, 651 parcels citywide qualify as a potential 
dispensary site. Critics say that while there may be 651 parcels 
where a facility could operate in theory, there are far fewer when 
unusable or occupied property is taken into consideration. That's 
forcing the dispensaries to locations that are more difficult for 
patients to access, or are in less safe industrial parks.

Dispensary owners and activists are particularly miffed by the 
inclusion of the provision that requires dispensaries to operate 
1,000 feet from churches, which they say raises questions over the 
separation of church and state.

"The churches don't pay any taxes, and while we should be sensitive 
to the entire community, I don't think religious institutions deserve 
a special carve-out," says Matt Abel, an attorney with Cannabis Counsel.

The law also bans the sale of edibles, limits hours of operation, and 
bans drive-thrus. Trevor LaFond, who owns Green River Meds on Grand 
River, says his business pulled its edibles, but that's a serious 
disservice to those who need to ingest marijuana without smoking.

"I don't see any logic in that whatsoever," he says. "They're trying 
to say kids can get a hold of edibles, but kids get a hold of a lot 
of things. Edibles won't kill them like other things will."

The legislation generally creates a situation in which patients and 
caregivers are open to criminal prosecution, says Greg Pawlowski, an 
attorney with Citizens for Sensible Cannabis Reform. Like many 
dispensary owners, he's baffled by many provisions, and he tells MT 
their inclusion was the work of a mostly unknown NGO called the 
Detroit Coalition for Action.

"There wasn't an open and transparent process from the start," 
Pawlowski says. "This was in play for over a year, and people from 
all sides didn't have a good amount of time to help craft this piece 
of legislation. The Detroit Coalition for Action wrote most of the 
ordinance, and that organization ... created criminal activity 
instead of protecting patients."

The law is such an issue to Pawlowski that he and the Citizens for 
Sensible Cannabis Reform are trying to put it up for a vote in the 
August primary, and filed one of the three medical marijuana-related 
lawsuits existing in circuit court after the city rejected its petitions.

Pawlowski says the deadline for submitting petitions to get the issue 
on the August ballot was 9 a.m. March 1. The group turned in 
signatures at 8:54 a.m., he says, but the deadline was 5 p.m. Feb. 
29. It will be up to the court to decide who is correct.

If the Citizens win, then Detroiters could vote on repealing the law 
in the August primary.

Regardless of what happens with that case, Hollowell and the city are 
asking a judge to declare Amsterdam of Detroit a public nuisance 
based on its operation in a drug-free zone.

In the complaint, Hollowell asks the court to allow the city to 
shutter the business and to "prevent access to the public, and to 
confiscate all illegal narcotics, weaponry, any form of marijuana, 
including plants and equipment for the purpose of cultivating, 
distributing or ingesting marijuana, together with any proceeds from 
the sale of marijuana found on site ... "

In other words, the city wants to shut down the business and take 
everything it owns.

Hollowell says the city is choosing to sue instead of ordering police 
raids because "this approach is a permanent resolution with binding 
court orders."

The lawsuit brought by a group of African-American dispensary owners 
led by Sons of Hemp owner Ronald Jones II remains pending.

In documents submitted to the court, the plaintiffs write they have 
"served as ordained healers of the community" for up to 20 years, and 
the businesses are "an extension of the plaintiff's sincerely held 
religious beliefs by facilitating their mission as ministers to help 
people create, celebrate, and build better health as defined by the 
Holy Bible."

Attorneys for the plaintiffs declined to comment, but others within 
the city, like Richard Clement, chief of staff to Detroit City 
Councilman George Cushingberry and card-carrying patient, see things 
differently than Hollowell.

"We need a law that's more inclusive instead of exclusive," he says. 
"They're wiping out all the business that are owned by native, 
African-American Detroiters, and these are people living in the city 
of Detroit, who grew up here, who pay taxes here, and this ordinance 
is adversely affecting them."

Ultimately, the city's law and its dispensary owners don't see the 
businesses the same. One side says they are healers, and the other 
says they are dealers.

"You're a public nuisance if you're affecting the public in negative 
ways ... but if we're not causing any problems or being any kind of a 
public nuisance or putting anyone at harm, then how can you say we're 
a public nuisance?" Venoy asks. "Especially when we're out there 
helping people in need."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom