Higher Ground: Detroit dispensary debate

"This is not going away, every community organization that I'm aware of in this city is looking for the same thing, and it's to not have Detroit become the Wild West city in the state of Michigan for medical marijuana," says Jim Ward, president of the Green Acres radio patrol (GWCRP), a community watch group.

Ward has been attending meetings with other Detroiters concerned with what they see as the over-proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. Maybe, just as the creation of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act was, this is a case of citizens stepping in where the state has failed to perform.

"We're not trying to outlaw it or starting any campaigns or debate about the properties of marijuana; that's water under the bridge," says Ward. "But we do want it regulated."

I wrote about this in my last Higher Ground column focusing on City Councilman James Tate's efforts to come to grips with the situation after the state legislature failed to act on it in the 2014 session. A couple of days later, The Detroit News ran a related story; a few days later the Freep did the same on the cover.

Ward says that he's communicated with Council President Brenda Jones on the issue via email and that a goal of the group he's been meeting with is to get this in front of the mayor for action.

One area Michigan has been remiss about with medical marijuana is on dispensaries. One thing that Tate said is that he's pushing for state action on medical marijuana dispensaries. Maybe it will help, but it's not like the state legislature has cared much what Detroit has to say about anything in recent years.

Ward points out that there seem to be a lot of dispensaries on the Detroit side of Eight Mile Road. That would probably be due to the hard line that Oakland County has taken against medical marijuana and a history of busting dispensaries. Owners court fewer problems locating in Wayne County.

When I spoke to Tate, he reported that there are some 180 dispensaries in Detroit. Since then, there have been media reports of as few as 50. That's part of the problem, nobody really knows because there is no legal distinction on the city books for a marijuana dispensary.

"Any mind-altering chemical, I don't care if it's beer, liquor, or whatever, I can't just open a store and start selling beer," says Ward. "I have to get a license. That's the concern, the proliferation of stores in the city and they're not regulated."

He's got a point there. If nobody knows if there are 50 dispensaries, or more than three times that number in the city, it might be a good idea to know that as you develop policy. Hey, it's good to know because when people fear something, all kinds of ideas start circulating, and it's best to have real facts in the discussion.

For instance, Pam Weinstein of Rosedale Park asks, "Do we want the kind of business that invites holdups and robbery and gunplay?"

Not one of the community members interviewed for any of these stories had a complaint against any of the Detroit marijuana storefronts other than the fact that they exist and there is something scary about that.

Before I get into this let me say that I know Pam and have worked with her in the past around urban agriculture issues. For that matter, I know Ward, and I'm a member of the GWCRP.

But Pam's question echoes the point of view that caused the injustice of 6-month-old Bree Green being taken from her parents for six weeks in 2013. Because her parents are medical marijuana patients and had a grow room, a worker from the Michigan Children's Protective Services deemed the home unsafe for the child because someone might break in to get the marijuana.

I'm not sure what people would say if a diamond store opened in their neighborhood with all kinds of security deployed to keep the diamonds safe, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't say it was inviting gunplay.

Still, I can't blame people for being concerned based on what they've been told about marijuana all their lives. And why not be concerned about what's going on in your community?

As Ward says, "We don't want to wait until we do have a problem."

Most folks want to see this resolved — municipalities, community residents, would-be entrepreneurs, and medical marijuana patients. Can the city do anything? Will the state act? Stay tuned.

Michigan Marijuana Majority

Michigan has officially joined the marijuana majority.

In response to the question would you "vote for a ballot proposal that would legalize marijuana used for adults 21 and over, create a system of licensed dispensaries to distribute the marijuana, and tax its sale," 50 percent of Michiganders responded yes and 46 percent responded no. That's not an overwhelming lead, but it's three points better than a similar poll conducted in 2013 and mirrors the national trend of a more positive attitude toward marijuana.

The poll of 600 voters conducted in December was commissioned by the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and conducted by EPIC MRA. The strongest support was from male Democrats with 70 percent; the strongest opposition was male Republicans with 63 percent reporting a likely no vote.

The Marijuana Majority concept is that the idea of regulating marijuana sales and stopping arrests for it is not a fringe idea; it is supported by the majority of Americans.

About The Author

Larry Gabriel

Larry Gabriel covers cannabis for Metro Times. He also writes the Detroit Watch in the monthly Michigan Cannabis Industries Report. Larry's chapter "Rebirth of Tribe" in the book Heaven Was Detroit, from jazz to hip-hop and beyond chronicles the involvement of Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison, Harold McKinney,...
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