Prospective medical marijuana dispensary operators jockey for chance at downtown Ypsilanti license
The Ypsilanti City Council’s approval of a licensing process for medical marijuana dispensaries brought an end to several months of discussion at the council table. But it didn't quell debate outside City Hall as potential operators positioned themselves for the one remaining license available downtown.
Questions also remained on the number of dispensaries already in operation downtown.
The council passed the second reading of the zoning ordinance by resolution Feb. 15 so the current dispensary — 3rd Coast Compassion Center at Hamilton and Pearl streets — can now apply for a license.
Its owners have a 30-day window to apply. City staff built in a 15-day appeal period in case the application is rejected. On April 1, new businesses can begin applying for licenses.
An application will be time stamped when it’s turned in, and will considered on a first come, first served basis. Because 3rd Coast is already operating downtown and the city’s zoning ordinance prohibits dispensaries from operating within 500 feet of one another, space remains for one more dispensary there.
Adam Tasselmyer rented a storefront at 124 West Michigan Avenue last fall with the intention of opening a dispensary called Herbal Solutions. Since then, he said, he's attended every council meeting concerning medical marijuana ordinances and has fielded questions from the council on the issue.
He has also worked closely with city staff during that time to ensure compliance with city policies, hired eight employees and invested $40,000 in renovating his space.
Although there are probably other people interested in opening a dispensary downtown, Tasselmyer says he has a moral, if not a legal, right to a first shot at the license.
“The way I see it is I’m the only one entitled to be downtown,” he said. “I don’t see how anybody could challenge me for this. It would be unethical.”
Before the council’s Feb. 15 meeting, an audience member quietly told Tasselmyer that a council member was working with a local landlord to bring a different dispensary downtown.
Tasselmyer then said during a public comment period that a council member was “in cahoots” with a millionaire to help open up a dispensary.
Council members said during the meeting that they didn't know who Tasselmyer meant, though Council Member Brian Robb said in an interview later that Tasselmyer was referring to him and Joe Lawrence.
Robb called it "an immature accusation" and said he only sent Lawrence a copy of the first draft of the ordinance. He said a constituent asked for help, and he helped, but never promised anything. He also pointed out that he is only one vote on the council.
Lawrence, who owns several vacant storefronts downtown, said Saturday that he had been in negotiations to rent a storefront to Jim Clippert, who is executive director of the American Dystonia Foundation. Dystonia is a disorder that causes involuntary muscle movement and is somewhat relieved by medical marijuana, sufferers say.
Lawrence said Clippert was to provide a business plan by 5 p.m. Friday but never did, so that deal fell through.
AnnArbor.com was unable to reach Clippert.
Lawrence also said he received a call from Tasselmyer several hours before the Feb. 15 council meeting in which Tasselmyer said that Mayor Paul Schreiber “promised” him a license. Tasselmyer told AnnArbor.com that he misspoke, and that Schreiber offered only his sympathy over the situation.
Schreiber also said he never made any promises. At the Feb. 15 meeting, he suggested that the city consider the applications not on the basis of who came first but who was more likely to succeed.
City attorney John Barr recommended against that, saying that giving staff that discretion could lead to charges of nepotism. Barr also told city staff that Tasselmyer couldn’t legally be given any preferential treatment.
At the Feb. 15 meeting, Lawrence said he was not there to advocate for any dispensary, but argued that the council should use its discretion instead of deciding licenses based on timing.
Lawrence said he has received about 20 phone calls over the last several months from people interested in renting his storefronts for a dispensary. He said he'd gotten three calls since Tuesday’s meeting from prospective proprietors who claimed financial backing, but no acceptable business plan had been submitted.
Lawrence said he doesn't need to make money from renting the storefronts and has his family’s reputation to think about when considering occupants.
“I’d just as soon not be involved,” he said. “What I hear is a lot of big talk, but I don’t see any rubber meeting the road.”
City Planner Teresa Gillotti said staff will provide and post procedures for new businesses submitting applications this week.
Officials have questioned whether the policy will lead to a "concert ticket-like camp out" in front of City Hall, and Tasselmyer has already vowed to rotate his employees in and out of line for weeks, if necessary. Gillotti said the only area where there is any competition for a license is downtown.
The situation could be further complicated by another grow operation and dispensary that 3rd Coast owner Darrell Stavros said is already operating downtown. That facility is run by Michael Dunn, who could not be reached for comment by AnnArbor.com.
Stavros said Dunn is working under the assumption that he will be "grandfathered in" because he was operating before a moratorium on new medical marijuana facilities went into effect. If that's the case, Tasselmyer or any other dispensary operator hoping to open a facility downtown would be unable to do so.
That operation was never brought up during the months-long discussion over medical marijuana ordinances, and Schreiber and Robb said they were unaware that another dispensary or grow operation exists downtown.
Gillotti said 3rd Coast is the only dispensary that the city knows to be operating legally. But she said staff would work with any other existing operations that may not be properly zoned to help them relocate or obtain licenses. She said other facilities haven't been addressed yet because the ordinances were approved only last week.
"We want to work with them on that," she said. "But if there are operations that are not going to comply, then we will go through enforcement procedures."
Per the city’s zoning ordinance passed in December, a grow operation cannot operate downtown but can operate elsewhere in the city.
Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at 734-623-2530 or email@example.com.