Ann Arbor City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to bring the city’s medical marijuana dispensaries into alignment with the state law Monday night.

After years of legal confusion, the state of Michigan began implementing 2016 laws that legalized medical marijuana dispensaries, and started accepting dispensary license applications Friday.

Medical marijuana was first legalized in the state of Michigan in 2008 when voters approved a ballot initiative to permit its use for seriously ill patients. Five years later, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the ballot initiative did not authorize medical marijuana dispensaries, and gave the state the right to shut down existing dispensaries on the grounds that they are a public nuisance. In 2016, however, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law the ability for remaining dispensaries to apply for licenses and acquire legal status. 

An extended debate commenced before the ordinance passed over a proposed amendment to it that would prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from existing within 800 feet of each other, rather than the originally proposed 600 feet.

The amendment failed, with seven votes against and four in favor. Among the City Councilmembers who voted in favor of the amendment were Chuck Warpehoski, D-Ward 5; Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3; and Sumi Kailasapathy, D-Ward 1.

Ackerman noted a 600-foot radius would allow about one dispensary per block downtown, and Warpehoski said he thought the 600-foot spacing could make certain areas feel like “green light districts.”

“One of the arguments that helped drive it home for me is, serving the 5th Ward, at the smaller spacing, if you were to go down Stadium from Dexter down to Pauline, you could have ten different provisioning centers on that strip, which for those larger blocks it starts to feel a bit more like a green light district rather than a more spread out, lower intensity provision of the service,” Warpehoski said.

Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, who voted against the amendment, said he spoke with local residents who had been planning to open their own medical marijuana dispensaries. He said the 800-foot radius would actually prohibit these residents from opening their facilities, and he did not want to hinder the people who waited until operating a dispensary was legalized.

“I would point out that that 800-foot buffer would actually disadvantage facilities –– at least one facility –– that has a property, that has been waiting to operate legally, but who is within 800 feet of a current operator,” he said. “And so, to try not to disadvantage that kind of operation, I think that we should stay with the 600-foot buffer.”

Kailasapathy responded the city should start with an 800-foot radius, and then reduce it later if the council deemed it necessary. She argued if the council accepts a smaller radius, it would be difficult to increase the radius in the future and force some operators out of business.

“I do understand this is a new area that the rules and regulations are unfolding as we speak, but we really do want to watch out for the density, because we do not want too many of any business, for that matter,” she said.

Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, pointed out 99 percent of all rental properties and 93 percent of commercial properties in the city are occupied. She claimed the market would probably not allow medical marijuana dispensaries to become too highly concentrated.

“I think there are places where businesses could open, but I’m pretty convinced that if they’re going to be a successful business, they’ll be a successful business,” she said. “And if there’s a glut of these businesses, then the market will take care of that, and successful businesses will operate and the ones that aren’t successful (will fail). This will enable people to go to the best businesses that we have to offer in the city.”

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