City Council Delays Direction on Marijuana

At its March 5, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council postponed a resolution that would direct the city attorney, Stephen Postema, to “delay all enforcement activities against medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities except for claims that they violate Section 5:50.1(3) of the City Code [zoning regulations], until the Council amends or rejects amendments to the zoning and licensing ordinances for medical marijuana.”

The council did not reach the item on its agenda until around 12:30 a.m. and decided to postpone it, due to the late hour, without further deliberation.

The resolution reflects an ongoing tension between the city’s medical marijuana licensing board and the city attorney’s office.

That tension between the board and the city attorney’s office is reflected in a statement sent by members of the board to city councilmembers on March 2, which reads in part: “[The city attorney's office] has been aggressively trying to shut [dispensaries] down while we actively try to license them.” The statement goes on to point out that a representative from the city attorney’s office had been present at all of the board’s meetings and that the board’s recommendations had been reported to the city council. But after that, the city attorney’s office had sent out new letters to all dispensaries requesting them to provide information about how their business operates. [.pdf of entire statement from Ann Arbor's medical marijuana licensing board to the Ann Arbor city council]

The part of the city code called out for continued enforcement in the resolution, Section 5:50.1(3), specifies the zones in the city where medical marijuana businesses may be located. From the code: “Medical marijuana dispensaries shall only be located in a district classified pursuant to this chapter as D, C, or M, or in PUD districts where retail is permitted in the supplemental regulations. Medical marijuana cultivation facilities shall only be located in a district classified pursuant to this chapter as C, M, RE, or ORL.” [.pdf of Section 5:50.1(3)]

The resolution stemmed from a meeting of the city’s medical marijuana licensing board on Feb. 28 that was convened in response to concerns by several dispensary owners, who have received letters, dated Feb. 24, from the city attorney’s office. The letters make specific inquiries into several aspects of the business model of dispensaries – in order to assess whether they are in compliance with Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Act. Compliance with the MMMA is a requirement for issuance of a medical marijuana license, and recipients of the letters have license applications pending with the city. Although the legal position of the city attorney appears to be that it’s possible for a dispensary to operate in compliance with the MMMA, no explication of what that model would entail has been set forth.

Among the questions being posed to all dispensaries in the letters is the following: “Does any person or entity deliver marijuana to [Dispensary Name]? If so, does [Dispensary Name] ever pay, donate, or in any way give money to the person or entity who delivers the marijuana or to anyone else? If so, to whom is the money paid, donated, or given and how much?” [.pdf of set of letters]

The city council resolution was sponsored on the agenda by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who is the city council’s representative to the medical marijuana licensing board. After its Jan. 31, 2012 meeting, the board submitted a required report to the council with recommendations on the issuance of the first dispensary licenses and revisions to the city’s medical marijuana ordinance. The report recommends to the council that 10 dispensaries be issued licenses.

The city council enacted zoning and licensing regulations for medical marijuana businesses at its June 20, 2011 meeting.

The resolution postponed by the council on March 5 requests that the council decide on recommendations for amendments to the city’s medical marijuana ordinance before June 18, 2012.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]