Last year in Detroit, medical marijuana ordinances went into effect on March 1st regarding where and when dispensaries could operate. According to Melvin Butch Hollowell of the Detroit corporation counsel, nearly 300 dispensaries in the area were found to be operating illegally. Letters were sent informing the businesses of their non-compliance, warning them of the risk of being shut down if they were not fully licensed. Since then, 167 medical marijuana dispensaries have been shut down in Detroit and the number’s expected to grow.
What The Ordinance Entails
Several factors are considered when it comes to when, where, and how medical marijuana dispensaries can operate in Detroit. First and foremost, businesses must obtain a license specific to running a dispensary. Beyond that, zoning is a huge factor for many of the dispensaries that are currently under investigation. The ordinance requires that medical marijuana businesses cannot operate within a 1,000 foot radius of places like schools, churches, parks, and any other area considered a drug-free zone. They are also required to close by 8 pm.
The businesses that have been shut down so far are the ones located in the drug-free zones. With concerns from community members over the large number of dispensaries popping up within these areas, Hollowell explains the order of investigations based on priority:
“There are other areas, but as we look at an overall map, there are clusters and those are the areas that we do focus on,” he said. “We started out focusing in on the facilities that are in drug-free zones and then to the areas where there are these clusters. We’ve been successful in the closure rate, but there’s more to do.”
At present, according to Hollowell, there are seven attorneys working specifically on these cases in regards to enforcement, licensing, and regulatory issues. So far, Hollowell states that every single case requesting that a medical marijuana business be closed and padlocked has been successful. He also points out that at present, there are only five businesses licensed and operating legally within the city.
The ordinance and subsequent closures of medical marijuana dispensaries stems from complaints in the community. Chairman of the Metropolitan Detroit Community Action Coalition, Winfred Blackmon, is just one of many who’ve expressed concern. The issue, according to Blackmon, is not medical marijuana itself but the fact that so many businesses keep popping up in neighborhoods where they are not allowed to operate. With emails coming in from members of the community expressing their frustration with the situation, Blackmon feels strongly that the concerns are addressed and that laws are enforced.
Taking action on the concerns from those in the community, many medical marijuana businesses have been visited by inspectors from the Building Safety Engineering and Environmental Department. These businesses have also been notified by the police of their illegal operating status. So when the notice comes to close down shop, these businesses are not in for any kind of surprise.
The goal for Detroit is to limit the number of medical marijuana dispensaries to 50. So far, after the recent closures, there are 51 more businesses on the chopping block. This would bring the number of businesses closed to over 200 and even closer to the city’s goal for how many of them they’d like to see in operation.
With over a quarter of a million people registered to use cannabis medicinally, Michigan is currently one of the states where cannabis legalization might make its way on the 2018 ballot. Detroit, however, will continue to focus on its current goals of enforcing the ordinance and closing down businesses that operate illegally. Should cannabis become legal in Michigan, officials are confident that they will have successful models to follow from states where it’s already legal. In the meantime, medical marijuana businesses found violating regulations will operate at their own risk in Motor City.