Control marijuana ‘invasion,’ Detroiters tell planners

DETROIT — Concerned Detroiters spoke out against medical marijuana shops at a public hearing Thursday night and pleaded with city officials to implement new regulations to stifle the industry’s growth.

“There’s some way we have to control it because this is like an invasion,” longtime Detroit resident Nancy Bitzarakis said at the hearing.

Bitzarakis was among several residents who spoke at the city Planning Commission’s hearing at a near-capacity city hall auditorium, with most supporting a crackdown on the marijuana dispensaries. Residents described an ever-increasing number of dispensaries opening up near their neighborhoods, inviting undesirable activities — people smoking joints in parking lots, for example — and an atmosphere damaging to children.

Several marijuana advocates also attended the meeting to remind city officials about the substance’s medical benefits.

Marcea Bright, 41, said she was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and relies on medical marijuana for to relieve pain, nausea and sleep deprivation. Bright said she was worried that the zoning proposal, if approved, would make it more difficult for her to get treatment.

“You’re talking about a natural herb, not a man-made drug,” said Bright, who lives in northwest Detroit. “Think about the patients when you make your decision.”

The commission had the option to forward the zoning proposal to the City Council for consideration in the near future. The planning commission did not vote on the proposal Thursday night. Instead, the public hearing was adjourned until next Thursday. The commission’s staff was told to prepare maps showing alternative spacing requirements and to explore design standards for the centers.

The zoning proposal would restrict medical marijuana caregiver centers within 1,000 feet from schools, parks and churches, and 2,000 feet from other caregiver centers or businesses with a “controlled use” permit, including party stores with liquor licenses.

The proposed zoning ordinance is part of the council’s effort to regulate Detroit’s growing number of unlicensed medical marijuana dispensaries. There are about 150 such dispensaries operating inside the city limits, according to a report released earlier this month.

Pam Weinstein of the Rosedale Park Improvement Association said the increasing number of marijuana shops is hindering the growth of more family-friendly small businesses.

“The message is real simple: We don’t want to live with this stuff,” Weinstein said. “Keep us moving in the right direction for Detroit.”

George Brikho of Troy, who attended the public meeting, said the negative stigma attached to the marijuana shops is inaccurate. Brikho said he is co-founder of Evergreen Management, a group advocating for the passage of new state laws bills pending in the Senate to regulate the production and sale of medical marijuana.

“Marijuana does not cause violent activity,” Brikho said. “We need to get the boogieman out of marijuana. This is prohibition all over again.”

On Oct. 13, the Detroit council approved companion legislation to the proposed zoning ordinance. The council approved new rules for licensing medical marijuana caregiver centers. Under the new rules, the marijuana shops will have to get a city license or be shut down. Operators of the shops would be subject to a police background check, and drive-through service would be prohibited. The ordinance also sets an inspection process and prohibits shops from staying open 24 hours a day.

The licensing rules won’t be effective until after the council votes on the zoning ordinance being debated Thursday.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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