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Posted on Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 11:48 a.m.

Ann Arbor officials look to cap medical marijuana dispensaries at 15 under new ordinance

By Ryan J. Stanton


Medical marijuana advocate Chuck Ream addresses the Ann Arbor City Council Monday night. The council is considering new licensing and zoning regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries and home occupations.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Ann Arbor officials are proposing to limit the number of medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities in the city to 15 under a new licensing ordinance.

Fifteen facilities — each serving 500 patients on average — should be enough to meet the demand for medical marijuana in Ann Arbor, said Wendy Rampson, the city's planning manager. She predicts up to 5,700 individuals locally might seek medicinal cannabis.

Across Michigan, there already are more than 43,000 patients.

Details of Ann Arbor's new medical marijuana licensing ordinance were shared with the Ann Arbor City Council Monday night.

New information suggests at least a dozen dispensaries are already operating in Ann Arbor, and some serve anywhere between 300 and 1,000 patients.

But for now, there's a moratorium on any new dispensaries opening until city officials can sort out how to properly regulate them.

The council decided Monday to postpone a first reading of the new licensing ordinance until Jan. 3 at the advice of City Attorney Stephen Postema, who said details still are being worked out. The ordinance is expected to come back for final approval on Jan. 18.

At that same meeting, the council will be asked to give final approval on a new zoning ordinance that regulates where dispensaries can locate in Ann Arbor.

The licensing ordinance doesn't include a limit on the number of medical marijuana home occupations. But it does say if residents want to grow more than 24 plants, they would be subject to a safety inspection by a city building official.

If a building official deems it necessary, those running home occupations also may need to show proof from a qualified professional that "equipment necessary to handle heating, ventilation and air balance requirements has been installed to prevent the growth of harmful mold or other conditions harmful to individuals inside the dwelling."

The ordinance, as it's now proposed, further states no one can be eligible for a license to operate a cultivation facility, dispensary or home occupation if they have been convicted of a misdemeanor involving any controlled substance or any felony.

Postema said the rules, including the inspections, aren't meant to infringe on anyone's rights or invade anyone's privacy. Rather, he sees them as reasonable to ensure safety.

But that's not the way local marijuana advocate Chuck Ream sees it.

Ream thanked council members Monday night for their work on the new medical marijuana regulations, saying they have done a "tremendous job so far." But he accused the city attorney's office of throwing "a giant monkey wrench into the works."


Stephen Postema

"This home occupation thing is clearly illegal and really stinks," he said. "Council never once asked for the power to identify and harass local caregivers who are licensed by state law."

Ream said he considers inspections an illegal "home invasion." He said it would "terrify" and "discourage" people who need medical marijuana from participating in the program.

"The law says you may not search, you may not inspect," Ream told city officials. "Here in Ann Arbor, we simply can't set a bad example. People all over the state are looking for us to set a good example that they can take to their city."

Postema disagreed with Ream's legal interpretation. He said local medical marijuana regulations throughout the state will be tested in court, but he thinks inspections are reasonable to the extent that they look out for safety.

"In a residential neighborhood for a caregiver, the statute provides up to 60 plants," he said. "And I think anybody who deals with these type of grow operations recognizes — even the proponents of marijuana — that 60 plants grown in a residential home is a serious issue."

Postema said the city would keep its list of license holders confidential and wouldn't disclose the names or addresses to anyone under any circumstances.

He said having the city keep a list benefits license holders so they're not subject to unnecessary raids by police who might otherwise suspect an illegal grow operation.

"There have been raids on dispensaries in the state of Michigan as recent as September, so it is not true that the federal government has taken a hands-off policy," he said.

Postema said Ann Arbor's regulations pale in comparison to the level of regulations in some other places, including in the state of Colorado.

In Michigan, he said, the state statute legalizing medical marijuana doesn't even mention dispensaries, which has made the issue more contentious.

"The argument is, in some sense, whether or not that absence in state law permits such an entity, or whether the absence indicates it is prohibited," Postema said. "That is an issue that will now be fought out in the courts because there are many communities that have not allowed medical marijuana dispensaries at all. In fact, many smaller local communities surrounding Ann Arbor have made that determination."

Postema said licensing and regulating dispensaries in Ann Arbor is prudent because of what has happened in other states that have allowed dispensaries.

"The experience both in California and then looking at Colorado that did this much earlier demonstrated that a wide-open acceptance of dispensaries without regulation was a clear error — in no uncertain terms — on all levels of public policy," he said.

Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, asked whether limiting the number of dispensaries would just end up creating larger ones. Postema said that could be the case.

Postema said the city attorney's office still is considering a licensing fee. He said it could be $200 with additional fees to cover the costs of any inspections.

Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, said it seems more questions need to be addressed.

"We should have more answers than we do today," she said. "We should know where we're headed. I hear a lot of questions about where we're going."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Tue, Dec 21, 2010 : 4:04 p.m.

Does anyone realize that what the city is proposing would actually place the "15" facilities far over the limit of the one of the biggest federal no no's of exceeding 99 plants at a location, the Feds would interpret these facilities as drug factories and have every right to bust them as they are not in compliance with the state of Michigan or federal guidelines. Furthermore why are these facilities are already being constructed in town. I have friends who are electricians installing 100,000 dollar grow facilities by parties and people connected to the well financed dispensaries and city staffers, who will ultimately control by rough estimates 15 to 20 million dollars in revenue that will be generated by these 15 facilities. Can you lay down a better welcome mat for ORGANIZED CRIME? The whole thing stinks, city staffers and lawyers burnishing thier careers, creating work for themselves and making ignorant claims about how to grow on one side, and on the other side are the dispensary people trying to line their pockets with money without doing the hard work of following the state guidelines. dispensaries are illegal in Michigan. The bottom line for Ann arbor is that their has been one major incident (at the liberty clinic) in the almost three years the MMMA was passed, I think we have had three bank robberies in the last 6 months. So what's the problem? The same old prejudice and persecution of marijuana. The fact is if we didn't have the dispensaries no one would be paying attention. So either get rid of the dispensaries or allow dispensaries to only sell and not produce, require them buy local surplus from voluntarily registered caregivers and tax every ounce 9%, this would be much closer to the liqour revenue model and it could be done voluntarily until we knew what we were doing. The glaring fact is that many people were ok with the act until they started seeing people make money, start businesses and profit from their hard work. We need to separate producing medical marijuana from the concepts of dispensaries. an Agricultural Co-Op that produces medical marijuana for a network of patient and caregivers is not the same as a dispensary that claims to be a Co-Op because you pay a membership fee to be able to come in off the street and buy pot. they are not the same however the city does not seem to understand this simple nuance. Any resolution the city passes is going to be challenged in court and the burden of enforcement will be the responsibility an already overburdened police force. There is no silver bullet to fix a problem that does not exist and may or may not exist in the future. why is is a big deal? Special interest and 20 million dollars far outweigh any concern for the citizens of ann arbor or the patients who want relief from their pain and the freedom to choose a caregiver without persecution. Finally I have a 15 year old and it is easier for him to get pot than liqour in our current culture, Marijuana as a controlled substance has proven to be uncontrollable. However if the community of caregivers is morally responsible their would be a line of communication between law enforcement and the caregivers to identify and stop the flow of pot to teens. I find pot on my teen and it could easily be traced to the grower who could then narrow down the connection of how the minor got the pot. For years we as a culture have crossed our arms and just said "NO" it failed miserably, I know because 30 years ago I was in high school when Nancy Reagan began her anti-drug crusade. In 2010 alone they seized over a half a million pounds headed to the US on the Mexican border at one time.


Wed, Dec 8, 2010 : 7:27 p.m.

There isn't even a need for one. Marinol is available in pill form with an actual prescription. But then, Big Pharma is evil...


Wed, Dec 8, 2010 : 6:38 p.m.

We all know this is just a way for people to smoke pot legally. I wonder how long it will take for the High School students to figure out a way to get legal pot. Lets face it medical marijuana is a bad idea, with unintended consequences that will not help society as a hole.


Wed, Dec 8, 2010 : 9:11 a.m.

It would seem to me that 15 would be enough. As soon as CVS and Wallgreens start distributing, there will be different type of drug war.


Wed, Dec 8, 2010 : 5:20 a.m.

How can the city promise that the list will remain confidential? The city is subject to the freedom of information act so it will be up to a court to decide if the list is confidential. The list might also be subpoenaed in a court action. Thus, it is not up to the city government to decide if it will be confidential.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 10:11 p.m.

So we've got, what, about 10 CVS/Walgreens and Rite Aids drugstores in ann arbor. And they sell not one product, but literally hundreds and hundreds of things, along with many varieties of prescription medications and otc meds. They are subject to zoning, licensure, and oversight because of they sell the medications and are places of business and that's normally how places of business are treated in the free market. So there's then there's this one place of business, which wants to be considered as legitimate place as such... that just happens to sell JUST one product...also a drug, of at times debatable value...which up until 2 years ago was completely illegal...and it expects to exist without regulation or oversight, licensure, oversight or zoning? Give me a break.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 9:18 p.m.

That's like a bummer man.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 9:13 p.m.

C. S. Gass@ "You cannot set up a situation where something is legal and then keep illegal every mechanism by which you get to that legality." Your correct. That is why the law provided for a mechanism, two actually. The patient can grow it or the patient can find a care giver to grow it for them. Those are the mechanisms provided in the law. What isn't a mechanism is a store front operated by a third party.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 9:07 p.m.

This is Ann Arbor for crying out loud. What's wrong with you people? Why should only the high school kids get to smoke marijuana? It's not fair to put a limit on the number of dispensaries, it's not fair that some people make more money than others, it's not fair that all you people who drive anything but a battery powered car get to ruin the planet, it's not fair that life's not fair and that the Israelis are mean to the Palestinians and that our kids are exposed to all of this crap. You brought this on yourself people, you voted for it, quit complaining, and party down. If you supported this I hope they build a dispensary (nice name for a drug house) right near where you live and your kids walk to school. Does that piss you off? Smoke a joint and you'll feel better.

David Briegel

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 9:01 p.m.

"The Market" has already spoken loud and clear. Marijuana is readily available to anyone who desires. It is just not legal. You can't stop something that anyone can grow, conceal, market and use in private. No different than a bootleggers still! And to harrass sick people who need their "medicine" is one of the most cynical tricks our society can play on it's citizens! Liberty and freedom indeed!!

paul wiener

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 8:42 p.m.

I think A2 should allow either 17 or 54 dispensaries, depending on the temperature. No wait. Maybe. 41 is a good number too, a prime. whereas 15 divided by 5 is 3. It's a tough call.....

rusty shackelford

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 7:48 p.m.

I agree with ricebrnr for once. Local governments have taken the attitude that medical marijuana is essentially a vice to be mildly tolerated, and that we need to keep the scary people who use it away from all our innocent little families. This is clearly not the opinion of the people of Ann Arbor nor the state of Michigan, as expressed through overwhelming support for medical marijuana use and cultivation. It is absurd that someone growing in a manner legal under state law could potentially be in more trouble with the city than someone in recreational possession, which is still illegal according to the state (though effectively 'decriminalized' in the city of Ann Arbor). The city needs to take a hands off policy. It is potentially liable under federal law if it can be demonstrated--as it could, easily, with these measures--that they know of dispensaries operating in contravention to federal law but do nothing to stop them and do not notify federal authorities.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 6:53 p.m.

CS Gass, thanks for expounding more eloquently than I could. Agree 100%


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 5:57 p.m.

15 dispensaries will work fine especially is there is a 10,000 dollar operations fee imposed. Refer to communities like Long Beach and surrounding areas in CA that charge fees to operate in their community. Additionally, a lotery could be held for the 15 dispensaries with a 1,000 fee to enter to see whom is picked. Market driven approach that will result in highest quality.

David Briegel

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 5:48 p.m.

Why 15? Why not 2? Or 3? Or 30? The people made a huge mistake in their belief that the politicians would actually respond to their will. How naive and foolish! Legalize it. Cut the nonsense! Chuck, These geniuses do NOT believe in the free market. Everyone knows that if Pfizer had a patent, it would be legal tomorrow! There must be 50 pharmacies in this city for aspirin!


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 5:30 p.m.

I am confident the market will tell us if and how many.....

C. S. Gass

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 5:20 p.m.

"In all jurisprudence that which is not regulated is by definition "legal"." That is what you need to focus on in this debate. You cannot set up a situation where something is legal and then keep illegal every mechanism by which you get to that legality. The law then loses all credibility and becomes, in effect, entrapping. The people who are against more dispensaries must realize that the market, which governs all commerce, will be the ultimate arbiter of who stays and who goes. How many bars and liquor stores does Ann Arbor have? More than it "needs" by more than a few people's definitions certainly. And that is regulated by one of the most backward and puritanical organizations in Michigan, the Liquor Control Commission. If we go by their example, fifteen would not seem to be enough. Ultimately, the people of Michigan have spoken. The law stands. Those who do not like it can feel free to move out of this state to a state where MJ is still totally illegal. I will not miss you. And I don't smoke, BTW. I just cannot stand NIMBY's. They are the most useless of people.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 5:08 p.m.

I might add that I do think our founding fathers would think it is ridiculous that we have all this legislation for the so called "devil weed", when all they wanted for us was liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 4:54 p.m.

It is illegal to sell pot, cut and dry. You can be compensated for your caregiving services, but you can only be a caregiver for 5 registered card holders. Prospective Card holders need to identify their caregivers on their application. I think the tautology is that a cargiver can be compensated for supplying weed, regardless of whether they grow it or obtain it for someone else, for no more than 5 individual cardholders. Once the dispensary sells to its sixth customer, it is out of compliance with the regulations.Once you get to the sixth person you are opening up the door to be charged under the penal code for distribution and/or manufacturing.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 4:39 p.m.

Ricebrnr, My argument is that because dispensaries are not addressed in the medical use "modification" of our pot laws they fall under the (pre)exisitng laws. That is to say if a store front selling marijuana was illegal before its still illegal because it wasn't made otherwise. I go back to the States own web site that says "You, or your designated primary caregiver, may grow your marihuana. There is no place in the state of Michigan to legally purchase medical marihuana." That seems clear to me. "Pot stores" were illegal before the medical use law was passed, pot stores are still illegal under that law because the medical use law didn't change that. Again this new medical law didn't eliminate all the old laws, it merely modified a small defined portion.

Elaine F. Owsley

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 4:11 p.m.

Does anyone not think this is too weird? Time spent deciding how many drug houses there should be in a college town? Whether or not they can be supervised? This is like a bad act in a 1960's play. Do the police get extra money to investigate any crimes committed in these places?


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 4:09 p.m.

@ Craig I respectfully disagree. If you read the quote again, you will see it specifically addresses the question of an "entity" as in the dispensaries which not being regulated are illegal or not. In all jurisprudence that which is not regulated is by definition "legal". It does NOT address the issue of marijuana itself being legal or not as you assert.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 3:39 p.m.

Ricebrnr@ WTH??? No there is no argument here. Be it for marijuana or anything else, if there is no law against it, by definition it is not regulated and therefore it is legal. The problem with your argument is there is a law against marijuana in the State. The law in question didn't legalize marijuana rather it legalized or (perhaps decriminalized) a specific limited use of marijuana.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 3:05 p.m.

And you know what? How come a city SO lax on criminal marijuana laws can be so rigid on legal marijuana? The apparent message is that they'd prefer marijuana trafficking to remain underground and criminal than to have legal distribution networks open to assist people in need. Hypocrisy much?


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 3:01 p.m.

"The argument is, in some sense, whether or not that absence in state law permits such an entity, or whether the absence indicates it is prohibited," WTH??? No there is no argument here. Be it for marijuana or anything else, if there is no law against it, by definition it is not regulated and therefore it is legal. For example, there are no laws against open carry only concealed carry. Guess what? Open carry is legal in Michigan. Why is it politicians ans some political lawyers always spin this type of bull?


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 2:19 p.m.

@dakabk, 15 may be a reasonable number. I'm not arguing that they should allow more. I'm just saying that by applying an arbitrary number to the amount of dispensaries the city creates a double-standard as to what the city "needs." The fact remains that the state legalized the product. For cities to go and try to force them out of their cities via BS zoning arguments, they should be applicable to all medical dispensary establishments.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 1:56 p.m.

@Forever27 - "the same towns that apparently need a CVS on every corner." Actually, thats pretty far from the truth. In the city of Ann Arbor, we have 5 CVS, 3 RiteAid and 2 Walgreen drug stores...all with much broader product offerings and services than a medical marijuana dispensery. 15 seems like a pretty reasonable number in comparison.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 1:44 p.m.

@shadowmanager, the same towns that apparently need a CVS on every corner. Isn't this one of those free market arguments? If a town needs/wants more dispensaries, they'll create the business to support them.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 1:19 p.m.

It actually make sense if one looks at marijuana as "medicine" as the dispensary people do. What town needs more than 15 places to buy primo aspirin?


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 1:17 p.m.

Voters legalize an industry, thereby creating job opportunities that are particularly well-suited to non-violent, victimless former convicts whose criminal records have traditionally posed a barrier to employment, and city council moves to exclude them and only them from the new labor market. Brilliant.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 1:16 p.m.

"In Michigan, he said, the state statute legalizing medical marijuana doesn't even mention dispensaries, which has made the issue more contentious...."The argument is, in some sense, whether or not that absence in state law permits such an entity, or whether the absence indicates it is prohibited," I'm no lawyer but when I go to the State of Michigan website concerning the law it says under "general information".. "You, or your designated primary caregiver, may grow your marihuana. There is no place in the state of Michigan to legally purchase medical marihuana." Again, I'm no lawyer but it seems to suggest a dispensary selling the stuff is NOT legal.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 1:14 p.m.

So I assume we'll be seeing the city council meet soon to discuss how many CVS and Wallgreens stores they will limit the city to, considering that they dispense much more harmful substances than marijuana to the general public. Oh that's right, pharmaceutical drugs are A-OK as long as the manufacturers have the money to convince the right people they are.

Tree Logger

Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 12:53 p.m.

I am thankful that the city council is looking to prohibit those with misdemeanor drug offenses and all felony convictions from growing their own medical marijuana. Those who were convicted of the grievous offenses of marijuana possession or marijuana cultivation (an automatic felony for one plant) will remain subject to criminal law. By these means, we may reduce access to quality medical marijuana by prohibiting those with growing experience from becoming caregivers. We only want clueless imbeciles growing crappy medical marijuana for our friends and family dying of cancer or AIDS.


Tue, Dec 7, 2010 : 12:15 p.m.

Well that doesn't seem very Progressive.