Ferndale has become the second city in Oakland County to welcome marijuana businesses, with two new medical pot shops opening their doors in recent days. Gage had a steady stream of customers inside and out all day Saturday when the business began selling medical marijuana, and Liv, about a mile away, had a steady stream of customers when it opened on Monday.
“I’m just really glad I know what I’m getting now,” said Andrew Zalewski, a 33-year-old Warren resident who was shopping for marijuana-infused topicals and dried flower from the cannabis plant at Liv on Monday. “There was no regulation. It was like the Wild West. You need to be educated about this stuff.”
Zalewski said he used to worry about buying pot-infused edibles before the market became regulated by the state because he never knew the potency of the THC — tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces the high — in the product.
“Sometimes you would take it and you would feel nothing,” he said of the products he used to treat chronic pain. “And other times, you take it and it knocks you out.”
While Wayne County has dominated the medical marijuana market in metro Detroit with 26 licensed dispensaries in Detroit, three in River Rouge, one in Inkster and two in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties have been slower to embrace the legal weed market.
The two shops in Ferndale, along with Greenhouse in Walled Lake, are the only three shops north of 8 Mile in metro Detroit so far. A third dispensary in Ferndale — the Green Buddha, a few blocks away from Liv on Hilton — also recently received a license from the state, but it hasn’t opened yet.
Macomb County has no dispensaries yet, although some communities, such as Harrison Township, have agreed to let grow facilities within their boundaries.
And that’s just fine with Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel. He opposed the ballot proposal legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use last year and believes that most medical marijuana patients just want to get high, rather than gain relief from illnesses and chronic pain.
“I don’t know why we don’t have any, but I’m glad,” he said. “This is just an opportunity for some people to make a lot of money and there are people out there who just want to smoke pot. And there are these two coming together trying to give us this impression that it’s for other reasons, when the reality is it’s financial gain and other people who just want to get high.
“I’m stunned that society came together to support this. I’m not a fan.’
The city of Warren had passed an ordinance that would have allowed for up to 15 medical marijuana dispensaries. But before the licenses could be awarded, lawyers for three dispensaries that were hoping to locate in the city sued the city because the subcommittee that was making the decisions on who would get the licenses were meeting behind closed doors.
A Macomb Circuit judge issued a temporary restraining order against the city, stopping any licensing decisions until at least Sept. 23.
Detroit’s marijuana market was already well established when the state passed regulations for the industry. The city had allowed unlicensed businesses to band together and sell marijuana from the caregivers who were authorized by the voters in 2008 to grow up to 72 plants for medical marijuana patients. Those shops operated in a gray area of the law for several years before they had to actually get licenses from the state.
In Oakland and Macomb counties, law enforcement shut down similar businesses that tried to sell caregiver pot before they got an official license from the state. So no medical marijuana shops were operating in Oakland or Macomb before the state regulated market began in mid-2018.
The dearth of communities that actually want marijuana businesses in their towns — only 125 have passed ordinances allowing in medical marijuana shops — comes at a time when the recreational market is getting ready to start. Voters approved a ballot proposal in November by a 56-44% margin that legalizes the use, possession and sale of marijuana for recreational use for anyone 21 and older. People can also grow up to 12 plants in their home for personal use.
While possessing, using and growing marijuana is technically legal now, the sale of recreational marijuana won’t be legal until the state Marijuana Regulatory Agency begins awarding business licenses. The agency will begin accepting applications for the recreational pot market on Nov. 1 and only licensed medical marijuana businesses will be allowed to apply for most of the categories of licenses.
But dozens of communities in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne are among at least 839 communities across the state that have decided to keep marijuana businesses out of their towns. Some of those communities passed opt-out resolutions with the intention of revisiting those decisions at some point in the future after the state came out with its rules for the new recreational market.
Marijuana advocates in four communities have gathered enough petition signatures to get the business issue on the ballot in their towns. But voters in all four towns — Royal Oak Township, Highland Park, Vanderbilt and Crystal Lake — have said they don’t want pot shops in their cities.
Voters in another four metro Detroit communities — Allen Park, Lincoln Park, Keego Harbor and Walled Lake — will decide marijuana business questions on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Owners at both Gage and Liv said they have licenses ready to go for more dispensaries across the state. Gage also has grow and processing facilities operating in Warren while Liv is getting ready to build out a grow operation at an undisclosed location.
“Michigan has a very mature medical marijuana market,” said Donell Cravens, regional retail manager for Gage. “And the competition is great. It brings all of us up.”
At Liv, one of the operators Danny Zoma, said the crowds showed that the state was ready for a regulated marijuana market.
“The state finally caught up with the people,” he said. “This is a win-win for everybody. The state is going to get the tax revenue and they can disperse the money wherever they want to.”
Both shops have high-tech elements with iPads in the waiting areas for people who are ready to order and budtenders offering one-on-one service inside the secure dispensaries.
Staff writer Chris Hall contributed to this report. Kathleen Gray covers the marijuana industry for the Detroit Free Press. Contact her: 313-223-4430, email@example.com or on Twitter @michpoligal.