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A Balancing Act




Despite the ongoing debate between financially invested medical cannabis business owners and their neighbors, a new ordinance could pacify residents and clarify Detroit’s zoning requirements on medical cannabis businesses in city limits. On June 7, Detroit City Councilmember James Tate proposed a zoning ordinance that would define the licensing section of zoning regulations for Ordinance No. 02-18 and cap the number of provisioning centers in the city at 75.

The proposed ordinance would fill a regulatory gap that must be complete before city officials can process license applications. It requires a great deal of compromise.

The proposal would:


  • Establish rules for five types of medical cannabis businesses.
  • Encourage prospective owners of medical cannabis facilities to offer community benefits as part of their application for approval.
  • Clarify the city’s buffer spacing and “drug-free zone” requirements.


Councilmember Tate’s proposal would help to define those rules, allowing license applications to begin moving forward. “What we’re looking to accomplish with the ordinance that we have with the city of Detroit complies with the state law that was recently amended surrounding the medical marihuana [system] as well as the ballot initiative that was submitted and was approved by residents in November 2017,” Tate told CULTURE. Ordinance No. 02-18 was approved by voters last year, but parts of its original zoning requirements were scrapped.

Tate is aware of the community’s different concerns. “The goal—ultimately—is to strike a balance between the concerns of the community of the industry overriding the will and desire of the people in the community, which is where they are located versus the need of individuals to have safe access to alternative medication,” Tate said. “You have different voices on both sides of the argument.”

Despite a few rounds of retail closures, there has also been plenty of opportunity. Under Tate’s ordinance proposal, the city would allow for 75 retail locations, dwarfing the number of establishments allowed in many other cities in the state of Michigan.

Tate didn’t want to waste any time on an ordinance that wouldn’t last. “Part of the challenge,” Tate admitted, was that “we had to create an ordinance that we won’t have to scrap and start all over again in the event that recreational marihuana is approved by the voters. We did take our time, and we were very deliberate and because of that we do have an ordinance that, in my opinion, that we’ll be able to suffice in the event that we have recreational marihuana approved by the voters in November.”

Before Michigan’s regulations on medical cannabis, it was open season in Detroit, and provisioning centers were popping up all over the place. Anywhere from 243 to 270 provisioning centers dotted the city, including locations on 8 Mile Road. Tate believes that his bill would provide fair coverage within the city, but nowhere near the situation seen in Detroit before regulations were in place. At one point, he said, there were five medical cannabis establishments in one corner of the city.

To have a compromise that most parties could agree upon, you have to start the conversation. “We started a dialogue with the residents,” Tate said. “It was important to me that we don’t completely block access just because it’s something that we’ve done traditionally, but that we open up an opportunity for people to have relief who need it. [It was about] balancing the wills and desires of people in the neighborhoods.” At this point, Tate doesn’t think either side is completely satisfied. “That’s politics,” he said. This proposal may be a must-needed step toward an end of conflicting regulations or gaps in Detroit’s medical cannabis system.