By John Schroyer
Update: A Detroit city councilman has reportedly declared the petition to force a vote on the zoning ordinance to be invalid, based on an analysis by the city’s corporate counsel, according to a report. Citizens for Sensible Cannabis Reform has promised a legal challenge.
Perhaps many of Detroit’s 200-plus medical cannabis dispensaries won’t be driven out of business by new zoning and licensing restrictions after all.
A coalition called Citizens for Sensible Cannabis Reform (CSCR) said it turned in just enough signatures this week to buy some time before two new ordinances go fully into effect.
The group, which is comprised of dispensary owners, local activists and other stakeholders, needed to get valid signatures from 4,055 Detroit voters on two separate petitions to force the city to put the new ordinances to a vote in August instead of unilaterally enacting the laws.
A member of CSCR said the group turned in 4,087 signatures for the zoning ordinance and 4,234 for the licensing initiative on Tuesday.
That’s an extremely tight margin for both measures, given that many signatures usually get thrown out. Often there are duplicate signatures, while in many cases ineligible voters or people who aren’t city residents or registered voters sign these types of petitions.
But CSCR said it will still have some time to collect more signatures should it fall short. The city clerk’s office has 10 days to either reject or validate all of the signatures, according to a CSCR member, and the group will then have an additional 15 days to make up any shortfall.
“We’re hoping for less than 20%…but it’s way too early to tell,” said Greg Pawlowski, one of CSCR’s members, referring to how many of the signatures may be thrown out by the clerk’s office. “I think we should be in good shape, but that may be wishful thinking.”
The problem at hand, as Marijuana Business Daily reported last week, is that the new licensing and zoning ordinances – which went into effect March 1 – are so restrictive that many existing storefront dispensaries will likely be forced to either move or shut down because there are so few legal areas where they could set up shop.
That could result in anywhere from 50%-75% of dispensaries being forced out of business, according to local insiders.
Despite the potential for a delay in the implementation of the new ordinances, plenty of dispensary owners are moving forward with the licensing process (the application window is only from March 1-31, but the licensing process could take months, with a lot of red tape for businesses to wade through).
As of Wednesday afternoon, the city had received 103 license applications, according to a Detroit deputy communications director. That’s up from 82 filed on Tuesday, which was the first day dispensaries could submit applications.
“It probably won’t be more than 150,” estimated Detroit cannabis attorney Matt Abel, who said he has five dispensary clients that still intend to request a license under the new ordinance.
As Miles Green Acres dispensary owner Melanie Faison put it, “That would be great” if CSCR succeeds in its fight, but “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Faison, whose dispensary is in jeopardy because it’s across the street from a park (which is illegal under the new zoning restrictions), says she’s planning on turning her shop into a boutique of some sort, possibly specializing in jewelry or sunglasses. She said she’s still “going through the motions” of applying for a license, even though she isn’t expecting to receive one.
“I’m going to go as far as I can, til I can’t go no more,” Faison said.
Though Abel is sitting out the ordinance fight between CSCR and Detroit, he says he thinks the group will “probably be successful” in forcing the city to put the ordinances on the Aug. 2 primary ballot.
But Pawlowski isn’t so sure. He wouldn’t be surprised if the city tries to claim that he turned in the signatures too late – after 9 a.m., which is why he took video of himself handing them in at 8:54 a.m.
“Whether we’ll be able to put a stay on this has yet to be determined,” Pawlowski said.
If CSCR is successful in forcing a popular vote, then the question will become educating voters and writing a replacement zoning and licensing law to put on the November ballot.
That’s another process that hasn’t even begun yet, Pawlowski said. He estimated CSCR may begin the drafting a new law in two to three weeks.
John Schroyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org