By Charles Sercombe
Hamtramck’s coming to grips with regulating the medical marijuana trade is turning into a long, strange trip.
City Councilmembers have spent hours upon hours trying to come up with an ordinance regulating where commercial growers of the plant can locate their business. A vote on a proposed zoning law has been stalled for the past several weeks.
In the meantime, there is nothing stopping anyone from opening a marijuana dispensary anywhere in town.
There are several dispensaries already operating in the tri-county area.
If Hamtramck officials seem like they are operating in a haze, they are not alone. Many communities are trying to figure out this new state law. Complicating matters are the recent raids conducted by Oakland County Sheriffs on several businesses. Oakland County authorities say pot was being sold to people without a legitimate medical claim.
And then there are some officials who are dead set against the law. Hamtramck Police Chief Mark Kalinowski is against the law, but he concedes it’s his job to enforce laws even if he is not in favor of them.
Councilmember Mohammad Hassan is against the pot law, too, but voting against regulating the pot business will not prevent anyone from operating a pot clinic.
According to advocates of medical marijuana, the state law was purposely left vague and open-ended in order to prevent an excess of regulation.
In Hamtramck, the main focus has been keeping commercial operations out of residential areas. City Manager Bill Cooper said it’s not uncommon to prevent commercial operations from locating in neighborhoods.
In the case of marijuana, he said the prime concerns are odors from the plants and the possibility of criminal activity.
City Councilmember Cathie Gordon, a former nurse, is in favor of the law, saying marijuana has proven medical effects. But she said the priority should be what’s in the best interest of the patients.
“The patients have to come first. Secondarily is the commercial side,” Gordon said.
She would like to follow the model set up by Oakland, California, which allows only non-profit organizations to grow and sell marijuana.
Gordon said the continued tweaking of Hamtramck’s law has stalled because some councilmembers miss work sessions on the subject. When the proposal is brought to the table at regular council meetings, the discussion gets bogged down by those who missed work sessions.
Besides that, there are the endless legal questions that keeping popping up.
“It’s a challenge for us to interpret the state law and make sure we don’t pass something in conflict with the state law,” said Councilmember Catrina Stackpoole.
Although, technically, there is nothing preventing anyone from opening a pot growing warehouse, the city has one card it can play to hold up an operation. Since commercial growers are basically a business, the city can hold off from issuing a permit to occupy a building.
That’s what Jason Friedmann, the city’s Director of Community & Economic Development, is currently doing to one would-be operator. Friedmann said the applicant wants to open a business on Jos. Campau.
Since the city is in the middle of drafting a zoning law, Friedmann said he is withholding the occupancy permit in order to avoid a possible zoning conflict.
He added that there are several other interested people waiting to open shop once Hamtramck finalizes the zoning law. If pot clinics are allowed to operate on Jos. Campau, expect to see a whole new look – and odor? — to the city’s main business district.