Pubdate: Thu, 02 Nov 2017
Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Copyright: 2017 Detroit Free Press


Nine years after Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative
that permits doctors to prescribe marijuana for therapeutic purposes,
state and local lawmakers are still struggling to design a regulatory
scheme that balances the interests of patients, providers and residents.

Earlier this year, Michigan legislators finally adopted a new regime
that establishes distinct licensing criteria for growing, processing,
testing, transporting and distributing the drug, which is still
forbidden by federal law, and dividing the tax revenues generated by
those activities between the state and local governments.

But municipalities have so far been slow to opt in to the new
regulatory scheme, to the frustration of those eager to cash in on a
lucrative, government-sanctioned industry.

Now, some of those impatient entrepreneurs are asking voters to adopt
two ballot initiatives that would preempt the Detroit City Council's
rule-setting authority and make it easier to license medical marijuana
dispensaries in Michigan's largest city.

Both ballot proposals will appear on the ballot in Tuesday's general
election. Neither is worthy of voters' support.

Proposal A and Proposal B are supported by a coalition of current
dispensary operators and entrepreneurs seeking entry to the nascent
medical marijuana industry.

Proposal A would:

* Forbid dispensary signs that include the word "marijuana," images of
a marijuana leaf, or a green cross, which would presumably advantage
well-capitalized dispensaries with ample resources to advertise their

Proposal B is concerned with zoning. Proposal B would:

* Eliminate the requirement that the city hold public hearings and
solicit public comment on proposals to open dispensaries.

Both initiatives are designed to give the medical marijuana industry's
existing and would-be stakeholders more freedom from prevailing zoning
restrictions and government oversight.

Detroit was more tolerant of dispensaries than most cities in the
years after Michigan voters legalized medical marijuana, and more than
200 such businesses sprung up in the city, mostly along major arteries
close to suburban customers. But an ordinance that took effect last
year gave the city authority to close most of those dispensaries, and
the city is in the process of granting licenses to a much smaller number.

Jonathan Barlow, a spokesman for Citizens for Sensible Cannabis, says
the amendments voters are being asked to approve Tuesday are necessary
to make sure Detroit and its residents can compete with other
municipalities for the jobs and investment capital the industry has
already begun to attract. Barlow says the current rules, which
effectively limit would-be operators to about 50 sites remote from
residential neighborhoods, are too constricting. And he notes that
entrepreneurs have already made plans to circumvent some of those
restrictions by purchasing liquor stores, churches and other
facilities whose presence presents a legal obstacle.

"This industry will take over Detroit regardless of what the city
council thinks it's accomplishing," said Barlow, whose group
circulated petitions for the ballot measures.

We sympathize with Detroiters who are eager to exploit the commercial
opportunities the legalization of medical marijuana presents, and we
share their impatience with those who would use the city's zoning and
regulatory authority to thwart the purpose of the 9-year-old medical
marijuana law, which is to facilitate access for patients with a
legitimate medical need.

But the youth of the industry and the abundant evidence that
unscrupulous doctors are abusing their authority to abet recreational
users both favor continued oversight by local lawmakers.

City Councilman James Tate, who championed the restrictions Proposal A
and B's champions seek to amend, is reasonably sensitive to the
legitimate demands of those who wish to operate dispensaries and other
medical marijuana facilities, and says he is working hard to persuade
his colleagues to opt-in to Michigan's new licensing regime in time
for Detroit to compete with other municipalities. Tate also wants to
reserve a percentage of the new operating licenses for Detroit
residents, a requirement not envisioned in the proposals on Tuesday's

We might be sympathetic to future proposals to streamline the
regulatory process if the city drags its feet or imposes unreasonable
restrictions on patients or operators.

But the industry's stakeholders have not made their case for
preempting the city's regulatory and zoning authority, and we
recommend that Detroiters vote NO on Proposal A and Proposal B.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt