Analysis: Less than 9% of pot dispensaries in Detroit eligible under restrictive ordinance

Green=Applicants
Red=Applicants in approved areas 

By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker

A vast majority of Detroit’s marijuana dispensaries are about to go up in smoke because of a controversial city ordinance that severely limits where cannabis shops are allowed to operate.

Of the 250 businesses that applied to run a dispensary under the new law, only 22 are in permissible areas, a Motor City Muckraker analysis shows.

When the ordinance went into effect in March, city officials said between 50 and 85 dispensaries likely would be in eligible areas. But public records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the city grossly exaggerated or miscalculated those estimates.

Snoop Dogg OG from a Detroit dispensary.

Snoop Dogg OG from a Detroit dispensary. All photos by Steve Neavling.

To date, no dispensary has been approved because the process, which began on March 1, is laborious.

The ordinance prohibits cannabis shops from operating within 1,000 feet of a liquor store, park, church, school, library or daycare center. Because there are so many churches and liquor stores, every dispensary that applied to operate on Woodward, W. Grand River, Gratiot, Michigan, E. Jefferson and 7 Mile is within a restricted zone.

Take the Green Pharm, one of the city’s most reputable dispensaries at 7455 Gratiot. It is within 1,000 feet of 14 churches and one liquor store, according to city property data. Bamboo Medical at 13040 7 Mile is too close to nine churches, a liquor store and a park.

City officials are beginning to file nuisance abatement actions against dispensaries that are within the restricted areas.

Detroit Corporation Counsel Melvin “Butch” Hollowell.

Detroit Corporation Counsel Melvin “Butch” Hollowell.

“We are filing four to six cases a week now in circuit court,” the city’s top attorney, Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, told Motor City Muckraker. “We ask the court for an order, which may include the closure of the facility.”

Between 150 and 200 dispensaries are operating in Detroit. About 65 of those are in restricted areas and “haven’t bothered to submit an application,” Hollowell said.

Michigan voters approved the medical marijuana law in 2008, and dispensaries have been opening in Detroit since. Many opened in formerly vacant commercial buildings and spent significant money sprucing up their businesses.

Beginning on March 1, the city began accepting applications under the new ordinance. On April 14, the city started hosting weekly hearings to determine whether the applicants satisfied the new requirements.

Denied applicants have the right to appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals and then circuit court.

Jar of potIt’s far too early to know how many dispensaries will be approved. Of the 22 that are within eligible areas, three likely won’t be approved because they are too close to another applicant. Dispensaries must also submit plan reviews, pass building inspections and obtain business licenses.

The Board of Zoning Appeals has the discretion and authority to approve dispensaries that are almost outside of the restricted areas.

And because churches, schools and liquor stores close so often, city officials acknowledged that some applicants likely will be able to show they are no longer in a restricted zone.

Of the 250 applicants, 89 are Detroit residents. Of the 22 who applied within the permissible areas, only three are from Detroit.

Most of the dispensaries in approved areas are close to the border of other communities. Only one is near downtown.

Cannabea Cookie from a Detroit dispensary.

Cannabea Cookie from a Detroit dispensary.

Dispensary owners say the new ordinance is overly restrictive and will harm patients who count on readily accessible, high-quality medicine.

The closure of more than 100 dispensaries also is going to contribute to more blight and abandonment in a city that is struggling to attract small businesses.

City officials defended the ordinance as a way to curtail the saturation of dispensaries.

Unlike most Michigan cities, Detroit is taking a softer, more tolerant approach to dispensaries. Instead of raiding dispensaries, like they had in the past, police are teaming up with city building officials to advise ineligible dispensaries to close. If they don’t, the city will file a nuisance abatement action.

“It’s a better way to run things,” Sgt. Michael Woody told Motor City Muckraker. “We don’t want to give the impression that we’re running people out of town.”

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • I completely agree with your opinion.

  • Wild Wings

    They look good gone. Their all-night, blinding green LED lights shine into residents’ homes across the street from the facility. People who need it can find the one closest to them. The rest can go to the suburbs where they live and set up shop.

  • eastsideboy

    This ordinance was instigated by the storefront ministers in the city.
    They do not accept the notion of medical MJ despite the state wide vote
    approving it. It’s just conservative, narrow minded bigotry.

    Why would they want to stop the proliferation of small businesses in the city? Why would they take away a whole new tax base for the stuggling city? Why would they want to make it harder for residents to get their medicine? And why would they tolerate and protect stores that sell liquor and nicotine? Isn’t alcohol and nicotine more harmful and addicting than MJ? So why prevent a medical dispensary from opening near a liquor store? What sense does this make?

    They say there’s “too many” dispensaries. How is that possible? If a gas station doesn’t have enough customers, they close. Same economics applies to MJ stores — if the store aren’t showing a profit, they close.

  • queenie1

    Kind of funny – there are so many churches and liquor stores, hard to find an area without them! 14 churches within a thousand feet of a dispensary – on Gratiot! It really doesn’t make sense, I’ve never heard of weed smokers attacking library patrons, church-goers or actually bothering anyone. And the dispensaries sure look a lot better than the usual abandoned buildings. Plus paying TAXES to the city! This law needs to be revised.

  • shavers313

    I don’t know why churches is in the ordinance. smh They run like business, they don’t deserve special treatment.

  • shavers313

    I don’t know why churches is in the ordinance. smh They run like business, they don’t deserve special treatment.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      Most non profits are run like business, not sure why you single out churches being special in that regard.

      People like you always seem to think nonprofit means no one gets paid, usually it means as little as a few percent, max 20 percent of free proceeds go to the cause.

      I do not see why parks are special, yu can have a liqour store right by a park, even in nice suburbs, but you cannot have a medical marijuana store right across the street. Just have the park be smoke free, cigarette and marijuana and it should be fine

    • javierjuanmanuel

      Most non profits are run like business, not sure why you single out churches being special in that regard.

      People like you always seem to think nonprofit means no one gets paid, usually it means as little as a few percent, max 20 percent of free proceeds go to the cause.

      I do not see why parks are special, yu can have a liqour store right by a park, even in nice suburbs, but you cannot have a medical marijuana store right across the street. Just have the park be smoke free, cigarette and marijuana and it should be fine

  • Donald E. Hodge

    Steve, why doesn`t the city just Grandfather in he stores that are open now, then deal with the other applications as they come in?

    • Third World Detroit

      …because residents who are paying Detroit’s high property and income taxes, without receiving public services in return, don’t want this mess in our neighborhoods.

      • javierjuanmanuel

        Thats a seperate old issue. They allowed these stores to open.

        Many or most wil consolidate in about 3-5 years, and half will fail because they get busted doing bad things, not paying taxes, not following labor laws etc. The remaining stores will be bought by competitors.

        In about 5-6 years, thee will be way less stores, doing high volume business, each further away from each other.

        This moment is a land grab like the wild west, they are racing to plant a stake in the ground and claim their space.

      • javierjuanmanuel

        Thats a seperate old issue. They allowed these stores to open.

        Many or most wil consolidate in about 3-5 years, and half will fail because they get busted doing bad things, not paying taxes, not following labor laws etc. The remaining stores will be bought by competitors.

        In about 5-6 years, thee will be way less stores, doing high volume business, each further away from each other.

        This moment is a land grab like the wild west, they are racing to plant a stake in the ground and claim their space.

      • Donald E. Hodge

        Do you think this brings in the wrong Business to any area in Detroit?

        • Third World Detroit

          These places attract the wrong element from the surrounding neighborhoods.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      This is not good for business. You cannot have people sign multi year leases, and then put 50-200k into a store, then shut the store down.

      hey are running their life, or at least taking life savings and 2-3 years of these guys times they spent, and another couple years to recover.

      People put their homes up as collateral, took out loans from family etc. You cannot do this to people, its wrong.

      • Donald E. Hodge

        I never thought that this whole Medical Marijuana thing was handle right to begin with. should it not be say Rite-aid doling out this Medication Too?

        • javierjuanmanuel

          Maybe. If it is medical, and regulated, if you can have a pharmacist or someone like that, it does not need to big corporate stuff.

          I would like to see local guys do well, and keep money local.

          • Donald E. Hodge

            Man, J I agree with that statement 100%.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      This is not good for business. You cannot have people sign multi year leases, and then put 50-200k into a store, then shut the store down.

      hey are running their life, or at least taking life savings and 2-3 years of these guys times they spent, and another couple years to recover.

      People put their homes up as collateral, took out loans from family etc. You cannot do this to people, its wrong.