Licensing or Zoning for Medical Marijuana?

Ann Arbor city attorney, planning staff pursuing dual tracks

At the Aug. 5, 2010 meeting of the Ann Arbor city council, councilmembers considered a resolution originally drafted by city attorney Stephen Postema to impose a temporary moratorium on the dispensing and growing of medical marijuana. The city council ultimately passed a modified version of the moratorium, with exemptions for patients and caregivers, a grandfathering-in of existing facilities in the city and a reduction in the length of the moratorium from 180 to 120 days. The moratorium ends Dec. 3.

Ann Arbor ordinance review committee

Ann Arbor planning staff and members of the planning commission's ordinance revisions committee discuss existing zoning areas and implications of ordinance changes at their Sept. 13 meeting. Clockwise from left: Wendy Rampson, Jill Thacher, Kirk Westphal, Jean Carlberg. (Photo by the writer.)

The resolution passed by the council also directed the city staff and planning commission to look at possible zoning ordinance changes, with the intent of regulating medical marijuana in Ann Arbor. The resolution does not mention other regulatory approaches, such as licensing.

Since then, the city’s planning staff and the ordinance revisions committee of the planning commission have been developing recommendations to change the city’s zoning code. The changes would regulate medical marijuana dispensaries as well as marijuana grown by registered caregivers as a “home occupation.”

At a Monday, Sept. 13 meeting of the ordinance revisions committee, the group mentioned a parallel track that’s being pursued by the city attorney’s office: licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries. Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning department, said that Postema has also been working with the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys regarding an approach to licensing medical marijuana. Postema is president of that group.

The development of a licensing approach to regulate medical marijuana was not a directive given in council’s Aug. 5 resolution – only zoning was addressed:

RESOLVED, That City Council hereby imposes a temporary moratorium prohibiting the initiation or expansion of the use of any property in the City as a facility for dispensing marihuana for medical and any other purpose and for cultivating marihuana plants, and that any zoning compliance permits or building and trade permits for such uses be deferred for a period of 120 days from the date of this resolution, in conjunction with the study and revision of the City’s Zoning Ordinance or other ordinances regarding this issue;

RESOLVED, That this moratorium does not apply to the following:

  • A dwelling unit (as defined by the Zoning Ordinance) where a qualifying patient under the Act resides and is cultivating up to the maximum number of marihuana plants permitted by the Act for personal use or possesses up to the maximum amount of marihuana permitted by the Act for personal use.
  • A building or structure (as defined by the Zoning Ordinance) other than a dwelling unit where no more than one qualifying patient under the Act is cultivating up to the maximum number of marihuana plants permitted by the Act for personal use or possesses up to the maximum amount of marihuana permitted by the Act for personal use.
  • A dwelling unit or other building or structure where no more than one primary caregiver under the Act is cultivating up to the maximum number of marihuana plants permitted by the Act for assisting a qualifying patient or possesses up to the maximum amount of marihuana permitted by the Act for assisting a qualifying patient.

RESOLVED, That City Council directs City staff and the Planning Commission to study and make specific recommendations for ordinance amendments that restrict facilities for dispensing marihuana to appropriate zoning districts along with spacing requirements, and to also regulate such use in residential districts;

RESOLVED, That the moratorium imposed by this resolution shall expire the earlier of 120 days from its effective date or upon adoption by City Council of ordinance amendments regarding the issue of facilities for dispensing marihuana and/or cultivating plants for medical or any other purposes.

Ordinance Revisions Committee: Possible Zoning Changes

The ordinance revisions committee has met three times over the past month, most recently on Monday, Sept. 13. The committee consists of four planning commissioners: Bonnie Bona, Jean Carlberg, Eric Mahler and Kirk Westphal. Possible zoning changes are being drafted by Jill Thacher of the city’s planning staff, with input and feedback from the committee.

Monday’s meeting was attended by Carlberg, Westphal, Thacher and Wendy Rampson, head of city planning. The group discussed several possible changes [still in draft form] to the city code.

Regarding location:

  • No medical marijuana dispensary shall be located on a parcel within 200 feet of a residential district, and shall be located only in D1, D2, C2, C3, M1 or M2 (downtown, commercial and light industrial) zoning districts.
  • No medical marijuana dispensary shall be established within 500 feet of another medical marijuana dispensary.
  • No medical marijuana dispensary shall be located within 1,000 feet of a parcel on which a public school is located.

Regarding the use of medical marijuana dispensaries:

  • No person shall reside in or permit any person to reside in the premises of a medical marijuana dispensary, except as allowed in the M (light industrial) zoning districts.
  • No person operating a medical marijuana dispensary shall permit any person under the age of 18 to be on the premises.
  • The operator of a medical marijuana dispensary must be a registered caregiver.
  • No person shall become the lessee or sub-lessee of any property for the purpose of using said property for a medical marijuana dispensary without the express written permission of the owner of the property for such use and a zoning compliance permit from the city of Ann Arbor.
  • In D1 zoning districts, medical marijuana may be dispensed, but not grown.
  • Odors may not leave the unit occupied by the medical marijuana dispensary.
  • No drive-through windows are allowed at a medical marijuana dispensary.
  • No on-site smoking or consumption is allowed at a medical marijuana dispensary.

Regarding medical marijuana as a “home occupation”:

  • One registered caregiver per single-family home is limited to providing medical marijuana to five patients. Caregivers may not give, sell, or otherwise transfer medical marijuana to anyone other than the five patients that have designated them as their caregiver through the Michigan Dept. of Community Health.
  • Caregivers must deliver to patients – no pickups are allowed from a caregiver’s house.
  • An annual zoning compliance permit is required.
  • Odors may not leave the property.

The decision has been made to treat medical marijuana as a separate, standalone section in the city code, Rampson said, similar to the section on adult entertainment uses in Chapter 55, Article III, Section 5:50 of the city code.

During Monday’s meeting, Thacher – who because of this task has become somewhat of an expert on the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act of 2008, which was approved by Michigan voters – said that under these draft recommendations, 431 parcels in the city could be eligible to be used for a medical marijuana dispensary.

The group discussed possible ways to limit the size of a dispensary, such as regulating a minimum amount of parking.

Carlberg asked whether the city knows how many registered caregivers there are in Ann Arbor. Thacher reported that the state won’t release information about registered caregivers or patients.

Rampson clarified that the only way to know would be if there’s a licensing requirement in the city. Similar to the process of getting a liquor license, a license to operate a medical marijuana dispensary could require inspections for fire safety and building code compliance, as well as a criminal background check, she said. And if the city adopts a licensing approach, that would likely mean that some of the zoning changes being discussed wouldn’t be necessary.

Westphal noted that if a dispensary is regulated through zoning and is compliant with zoning ordinances, there’s no way to shut it down – even if it’s causing problems in the surrounding area. Earlier in the meeting the group had discussed the cost of medical marijuana – more than $300 per ounce – and Carlberg had commented that it could create a crime zone around the dispensaries.

Westphal said that licensing is a great idea, and would give the city more control over these dispensaries.

At the end of Monday’s meeting, Thacher said she would put together the draft recommendations for the full planning commission to discuss at their working session on Tuesday, Sept. 14. The goal is to draft a resolution that could be posted on the city’s website on Wednesday as part of the planning commission’s agenda for its Sept. 21 meeting, when a public hearing on the ordinance changes is planned.


  1. By Jillian Galloway
    September 14, 2010 at 6:55 am | permalink

    $113 billion is spent on marijuana every year in the U.S., and because of the federal prohibition *every* dollar of it goes straight into the hands of criminals. Far from preventing people from using marijuana, the prohibition instead creates zero legal supply amid massive and unrelenting demand. The scale of the harm this causes far exceeds any benefit obtained from keeping marijuana illegal.

    According to the ONDCP, at least sixty percent of Mexican drug cartel money comes from selling marijuana in the U.S., they protect this revenue by brutally torturing, murdering and dismembering countless innocent people.

    If we can STOP people using marijuana then we need to do so NOW, but if we can’t then we must legalize the production and sale of marijuana to adults with after-tax prices set too low for the cartels to match. One way or the other, we have to force the cartels out of the marijuana market and eliminate their highly lucrative marijuana incomes – no business can withstand the loss of sixty percent of its revenue!

    To date, the cartels have amassed more than 100,000 “foot soldiers” and operate in 230 U.S. cities, and it’s now believed that the cartels are “morphing into, or making common cause with, what would be considered an insurgency” (Secretary of State Clinton, 09/09/2010). The longer the cartels are allowed to exploit the prohibition the more powerful they’ll get and the more our own personal security will be put in jeopardy.

  2. By PabloKoh
    September 14, 2010 at 9:39 am | permalink

    If you are worried about high prices lower the price by INCREASING COMPETITION. If you limit dispensaries and gardeners you increase price by limiting supply.

  3. By mr dairy
    September 14, 2010 at 10:06 am | permalink

    I can see it now.

    Dateline Ann Arbor, 2021. Ann Arbor Chronicle.

    While Michigan and the rest of the nation has made peace with pot smokers, and while many municipalities have gainfully taxed and regulated dispensaries, Ann Arbor’s dispensary ordinance is still locked up in committee “awaiting further input from staff”, said Mayor Hieftje. City administrator Fraser estimated the loss of revenue to be in the millions for the last decade. Councilman Rapundalo said that no cost was too high to prevent pot heads from destroying Ann Arbor’s business districts.

    Police made four arrests for disorderly conduct at Studio 4 later that evening.

    Several cars were burned by drunken student revelers on Greenwood St after the Wolverines loss to Northwestern yesterday.

    Now, back to you, Dave.

  4. By Jack F.
    September 14, 2010 at 10:09 am | permalink

    “Similar to the process of getting a liquor license, a license to operate a medical marijuana dispensary could require inspections for fire safety and building code compliance, as well as a criminal background check, she said.”

    Maybe we could START with inspections of slum lord run student housing? You know, the ones owned by those who’ve contributed to the Mayor’s reelection campaign.

  5. By ziggy selbin
    September 14, 2010 at 12:32 pm | permalink

    What keeps being missed is the behavior of the so called “patients” and “clinics”. When papers such as the metro times have dozens of ads for clinics all touting guaranteed approval it makes the transparency of it obvious……potheads that want to get high.That would not be so bad if they did not flaunt it and act as if the rest of us should put up with their obnoxious behavior.They may end up ruining it for those that legitimately find marijuana helpful; but then that is typical selfish substance addict behavior.

  6. By mr dairy
    September 14, 2010 at 2:10 pm | permalink

    @5 I heard that ketchup has natural mellowing agents.

  7. By Ima_Thinker_RU
    September 15, 2010 at 12:00 am | permalink

    Ziggy,what gets you and others so upset that people, or as you call them, potheads, just want to get high? and what obnoxious behaviour do potheads do, really, in real life? What would you think if that really nice lady in line with you at the store was really medicated, or as you might put it, high? There are a lot of high people everywhere! You might be thinking of the obnoxious behaviour of people that are drinking alcohol. <we gotta all put up with that, plus it is more dangerous!
    I don't like to think about all the school children doped up on drugs, to fit into conformity of the faltering school systems, squelching a child's oneness and individuality.

  8. By Jack F.
    September 15, 2010 at 8:45 am | permalink

    “Earlier in the meeting the group had discussed the cost of medical marijuana – more than $300 per ounce – and Carlberg had commented that it could create a crime zone around the dispensaries.”

    About the cost of dinner for two at The Chop House.

  9. By Jack F.
    September 15, 2010 at 8:48 am | permalink

    “…Michigan Medical Marijuana Act of 2008, which was approved by Michigan voters…”

    I don’t recall what the vote was in Ann Arbor other than it passing overwhelmingly. Maybe the political hacks who run this city should remember what the voters said they wanted. Oh, right…it’s what COUNCIL thinks is best, not the voters. One Party rule, the Bobble Head Democratic Party of Ann Arbor.

  10. By mr dairy
    September 15, 2010 at 8:48 am | permalink

    Dateline 2012. Ann Arbor Chronicle

    The State of Michigan Supreme Court ruled today that Ann Arbor City Attorney Stephen Postema’s latest attempt to quash medical marijuana dispensary’s within the city limits unconstitutional. The city staff, now consisting of 20 attorney’s, 14 of which were hired to fight the state law, has yet to draft a law that has yet to withstand a constitutional challenge from the 12,000 member Michigan Medical Marijuana Caregivers Association.

    In related news, newly elected Mayor Stephen Rapundalo, who campaigned on no dispensaries within a 50 mile radius of the city limits, has said he will fight on no matter how many more attorney’s the city might have to hire.

  11. By Jack F.
    September 15, 2010 at 8:51 am | permalink

    And the award for most pathetic photo of the year goes to Ann Arbor political appointees spending hundreds of hours, carefully reviewing the map of Ann Arbor to make sure the will of voters is squashed.

  12. By Jack F.
    September 15, 2010 at 8:52 am | permalink

    “•Odors may not leave the property.”

    Unless it’s backyard chicken poop of course.

  13. By Mary Morgan
    September 15, 2010 at 9:11 am | permalink

    Re. Ann Arbor’s vote on the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act of 2008: At Tuesday night’s working session of the planning commission, Jill Thacher of the city’s planning staff reported that 79% of voters in Ann Arbor had approved the ballot initiative.

  14. By Rod Johnson
    September 15, 2010 at 10:34 am | permalink

    Kudos to Mr Dairy for perfectly capturing the absurdity of this “debate.” Tangentially, who spells it “marihuana”? I haven’t seen that since those scary pamphlets in the 70s warned us that “marihuana” use was going to lead directly to tripping teenagers jumping off of skyscrapers. Squaresville, man.

  15. By Jack F.
    September 15, 2010 at 1:05 pm | permalink


    Thanks for the information on the 79%.

    Guessing that most of this group didn’t vote to have city officials effectively kill off implementation of the law with a thousand tiny paper cuts either. The people of Ann Arbor and Michigan have spoken and it looks like the city is begging for more tax wasting lawsuits with their ‘work group’. And Lawyer Postema’s membership in a state group wishing to small this law appears to be a conflict of interest with his city job.

  16. By Jack F.
    September 15, 2010 at 1:07 pm | permalink

    Glad Citizen Calberg is working so hard on this. Guess I can rest easy tonight about her crime fighting efforts.

    “Earlier in the meeting the group had discussed the cost of medical marijuana – more than $300 per ounce – and Carlberg had commented that it could create a crime zone around the dispensaries.”

  17. By Rod Johnson
    September 15, 2010 at 6:24 pm | permalink

    Where are the other crime zones? It would be good to have a list.

  18. By ziggyselbin
    September 16, 2010 at 6:59 am | permalink

    Ima , the behavior I refer to is blatantly expecting the rest of us to shut uo and smile as the “suffering” reefer patient plays hackey sack and frisbee in the parking lot(have you seen the names of these “clinics?)….park their cars in neighboring businesses lots……this is a medical need?

    I have nothing against anyone that wants to use marijuana as a recreational thing.I am offended when they think I et,al are so callow that we can’t see the transparency of it.

    They will wreck it for those that need it and themselves when the laws are changed to something more prohibitive.

  19. By Rod Johnson
    September 16, 2010 at 10:50 pm | permalink

    Wait–are you really arguing that it’s somehow onerous for “the rest of us” (whoever that is) to “put up with”… hackysack? How dare those people? Seriously, that’s your nuisance? Better stay out of my neighborhood, there might be a foursquare game going on.

  20. September 17, 2010 at 12:07 pm | permalink

    There are a lot of high people everywhere! You might be thinking of the obnoxious.

  21. By Waterway
    September 21, 2010 at 6:26 am | permalink

    Is the meeting tomorrow public? 7pm is it? Those of us who are affected by this latest trouncing of the public will need to attend. We have to make it clear that we have voted, and the law is quite clear that this medicine should be available to any qualifying patient. And, do I need to remind everybody that the MMMP decides who is a qualifying patient, along with that patient’s doctor? Sorry but you can’t diagnose somebody from a 50 ft observation, even if they are playing hacky sack! That’s why somebody went to school for 8 years and determined that cannabis would be beneficial for that person. And, the simple fact of the matter is that cannabis would probably be beneficial in many ways for MOST people. Wow, there’s a concept! Maybe that’s why tens of millions of Americans have continued to obtain and use cannabis responsibly for decades with almost no consequence other than those caused by its illegal status. We need to go to that meeting, and every meeting and drill these facts into their minds until they get it. $300 an ounce? THAT’S BECAUSE OF REGULATIONS! So it’s your regulations that are causing this supposed “crime zone” I have yet to experience in my over 100 trips to dispensaries. We have to speak up. Our less-abled patients are depending on us and damn those who label us more active patients as too healthy for medicine. My patients depend on my health and my health depends on cannabis. I hope to see you all there.
    Actually, I will admit there is a humility and respect level that certain patients are almost sure to breach. However when taking any random sample of the population you will undoubtedly always have an immature group, right? Cannabis may have many benefits, but making an immature person act respectful and humble may be asking a bit much.

  22. By Mary Morgan
    September 21, 2010 at 8:49 am | permalink

    The planning commission meeting is tonight – Tuesday, Sept. 21. It is open to the public and includes time for public commentary. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the 2nd floor city council chambers, 100 N. Fifth Ave. The commission has a full agenda, which includes review of the Fuller Road Station project as well as the medical marijuana issue, among other items. The agenda can be viewed here: [link]