FILE - Downtown Detroit

Downtown Detroit

Several medical marijuana facilities in Detroit are suing Marijuana Regulatory Commissioner (MRA) Andrew Brisbo. At issue is confusion they say is caused by local ordinances that banned recreational marijuana sales until at least Jan. 31, 2020.

The three lawsuits stem from hazy regulations between the city of Detroit’s ordinances and the Michigan statutes.

Last summer, the MRA recommended communities preferring to avoid recreational marijuana should opt-out by Nov. 1, 2019, when it started accepting recreational marijuana license applications for currently operating medical marijuana dispensaries.

“Since we plan to start taking business applications November 1st, stakeholders will have four months to evaluate these rules and make their decisions,” MRA Executive Director Andrew Brisbo said.

The Detroit City Council on Nov. 5 voted to formally opt-out of recreational marijuana sales at least until Jan. 31, effective on Nov. 12.

During 12 days of open application, at least three Detroit companies, Brightmoore Gardens, Utopia Gardens and Plan B Wellness Center, filed applications with the MRA to operate state-licensed recreational marijuana businesses.

Howell-based attorney Denise Pollicella, who’s representing the companies, told The Center Square the recreational adult-use statute allows for municipalities in opt-in, opt-out or do nothing.

Pollicella said Detroit chose to do nothing until Nov. 12, so under The Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (MRTMA) passed in December 2018, the companies that filed applications between Nov. 1 and Nov. 12 should have received licenses since they met other statutory requirements.

“Under 9.3 of the statute, if the facility files a complete application, files the fee, meets the requirements of the act, and the municipality doesn’t have an ordinance in place, the state must – not can, not may – must issue the license,” Pollicella said.

The state has refused to issue the licenses, Pollicella said, even though they all meet the state statutory requirements for recreational adult-use facilities.

The lawsuit alleges that around Nov. 12, the defendants began to cancel scheduled inspections for otherwise qualified applications, which violated MRTMA statutes.

“The State is statutorily obliged to not only process but approve MRTMA facility license applications in a municipality that has not opted-out of MRTMA at the time of application,” the lawsuit states.

Detroit businesses filed applications in proximate time as Ann Arbor dispensaries, where the state issued licenses to five facilities within two weeks of Nov. 1, Pollicella said.

On Dec. 1, Ann Arbor dispensaries completed $221,000 in recreational sales while Detroit dispensaries waited on licenses.

Pollicella said the state has decided to acquiesce to the city of Detroit rather than set statute.

Policella filed a mandamus action in the Court of Claims requesting the court direct MRA and LARA to complete inspections of MRTMA applicants and approve applications for companies meeting statutory requirements.

“We’re hoping to get objective statutory treatment from the state,” Pollicella said.

Pollicella said that Brisbo personally handed out the first license in Ann Arbor while “three million people in the Metro Detroit area have no access to recreational, adult-use marijuana through a commercial facility that has safe, lab-tested marijuana."

The state is playing politics instead of following statutes, Pollicella said.

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.