ANN ARBOR, MI – After a wave of requests from medical marijuana dispensaries seeking approval to operate in Ann Arbor, prompting concerns from some residents, city officials are calling for a temporary moratorium on issuing new permits.
The City Council will consider three resolutions regarding marijuana dispensaries when it meets Monday night, April 16.
One is a resolution to direct the city’s staff to prepare an ordinance amendment to limit the number of dispensaries in the city and to impose a 60-day moratorium on new permits, with the exception of dispensaries whose complete applications for zoning approval already have been accepted by the city for consideration.
“City Council finds it necessary to impose this moratorium in order to promote the public health, safety, and welfare of city residents,” the proposed resolution states.
It’s sponsored by Mayor Christopher Taylor and Council Members Zachary Ackerman, Graydon Krapohl, Julie Grand and Jane Lumm.
The resolution notes state law allows the city to adopt an ordinance stipulating the types of marijuana facilities allowed in the city, as well as limiting the number of each type.
“City Council would like to consider limiting the number of medical marijuana provisioning centers and other medical marijuana facilities in order to determine the effect over time of having medical marijuana facilities in the community, given the significant amount of interest in opening these facilities within the city,” it states, arguing it would be counter-productive to continue to approve new dispensary applications while ordinance changes are under consideration.
If the resolution is approved as worded, the city administrator and city attorney would be directed to draft an amendment to the city code to limit the number of dispensary permits available in the city to the number of approvable special-exception use applications already accepted for consideration by the city.
The ordinance amendment would be presented to the City Council for consideration by May 7.
Lumm, an independent from the 2nd Ward, is separately proposing a resolution to direct the city’s planning staff and Planning Commission to evaluate increasing the minimum distance required between marijuana dispensaries to 1,000 feet, along with any other changes that would limit concentrations of dispensaries.
The city currently requires dispensaries to be spaced at least 600 feet apart, and Lumm is seeking to enact the 1,000-foot buffer the Planning Commission previously recommended.
The City Council debated the distance requirement before establishing new regulations for marijuana businesses last December.
Ackerman, D-3rd Ward, advocated for increasing it to 800 feet, saying 600 feet would allow about one per block and some think that’s too dense. But the council voted 7-4 to stay with 600 feet.
The three who supported Ackerman’s call for a larger buffer at the time were Lumm, Sumi Kailasapathy and Chuck Warpehoski.
The city’s new regulations took effect Feb. 12 and the city has seen more than 30 dispensary applications, some from existing dispensaries seeking to become official under the new laws and some new ones looking to set up shop. The city’s Planning Commission is tasked with considering them on a case-by-case basis as special-exception uses, meaning they require special zoning approval.
The city said last month six dispensary applications were turned away because they were within 600 feet of other dispensaries. But 25 others were proceeding through the city’s approval process, seven of which have gone through zoning approval.
Once the zoning is approved, dispensaries still need building compliance approval, permit approval through the city clerk’s office and license approval through the state.
The Planning Commission voted this month to reject a dispensary in the Burns Park area after neighbors raised concerns about parking and site access issues, which commissioners agreed were a safety concern and made a retail operation there inappropriate. There also were concerns about how close it would have been to Burns Park Elementary School and the Eberbach Cultural Arts Center.
Ackerman, who serves on the city’s Planning Commission and opposed the Burns Park dispensary, said he supports Lumm’s call for another look at the distance requirement, noting 1,000 feet is what he and the Planning Commission originally recommended.
“I think the goal of the people who supported the 600-foot buffer was to see what happened. I think very quickly we’ve seen what happened,” Ackerman said, noting the many dispensary applications received by the city in a relatively short time.
Though he has heard concerns from some community members, Ackerman said he thinks the state is going to be regulating dispensaries so tightly that they’re going to operate much more like a pharmacy or a dentist office than a liquor store.
If recreational marijuana is legalized in the next year, he said, the city will have to have a different conversation. Michigan voters could decide on legalizing recreational marijuana this November.
“But for the time being, these are medical centers,” Ackerman said. “If the language for recreational marijuana use in the state mirrors medical marijuana use, then we would have to have a local conversation about how we would permit that and how we would do the zoning, which means we could tighten that regulation.”
He said medical marijuana dispensaries with approval to operate in Ann Arbor as medical centers would not automatically become recreational marijuana dispensaries if state law changes.
Ackerman noted several dispensaries have been operating in Ann Arbor for years, and he said they haven’t been a problem.
“I think part of it is education about what these establishments will be, and people have been living near 13 of them over the last almost decade,” he said. “I think some of this is just a learning curve for the community and it’s a little bit of a shock when you see 25 at once, but I think we’ll move through it.”
Taylor offered similar remarks in a recent Facebook post, saying he looks forward to more conversations about dispensaries, also known as provisioning centers, and helping to ease concerns.
“We’ve had provisioning centers in Ann Arbor since I believe 2010 and I’ve literally not heard a single complaint about them. They are good neighbors,” Taylor wrote.
While he’s never heard concerns about any of the dispensaries that are operating in the community, he said, he is hearing concerns about the number of new dispensaries seeking to open.
He said the city is undergoing a change in terms of the number of dispensaries likely to be in the community and it’s appropriate to take stock. He said he wants residents to have comfort going forward, and he still believes dispensaries that are run properly are good neighbors.
Each application needs to be reviewed and evaluated with care, and annual reviews are planned, Taylor said, encouraging residents to think of dispensaries more like dentist offices, not liquor stores.
Lumm’s resolution asking the Planning Commission to review the distance requirements again calls for a recommended ordinance amendment coming back to council by July 16.
Lumm also is proposing a resolution to have the city’s planning staff and Planning Commission consider adding a new requirement for special-exception use applicants to hold meetings with neighbors early in the process to get more citizen input. She’s asking for a recommendation on that to also come to council by July 16.