Pictured is the Greenhouse of Walled Lake. Earlier this year, cannabis industry representatives had a chance to speak at information-gathering sessions organized by the  city of Farmington Hills.

Pictured is the Greenhouse of Walled Lake. Earlier this year, cannabis industry representatives had a chance to speak at information-gathering sessions organized by the city of Farmington Hills.

Photo provided by the Greenhouse of Walled Lake

Farmington Hills evaluates cannabis information sessions

By: Mark Vest | Farmington Press | Published August 5, 2022


FARMINGTON HILLS — In March, the city of Farmington Hills hosted three “information sessions” in an effort to learn more about the commercial marijuana industry.

The sessions were conducted via Zoom, and it gave cannabis industry representatives an opportunity to make their case for why commercial marijuana dispensaries should be permitted in Farmington Hills.

It also provided a chance for Farmington Hills City Council members to gain more insight into the industry.

Michigan voters approved medical marijuana use in 2008 and recreational marijuana use in 2018.

However, despite that approval, municipalities still have a say as to whether or not to allow commercial use of marijuana in their respective jurisdictions.

Farmington Hills City Council Member Ken Massey discussed the city’s options prior to the sessions earlier this year.

“On the recreational side, we’re an opt-out city, and that’s what these sessions are all about, is do we (want to) opt-in? There are five categories on the recreational side; categories meaning growers, processors, quality control labs — the logistics of it — and then the dispensaries and smoking lounges,” Massey said. “Those are the five different areas, and a city can opt out, as we did, and then look at that and say, ‘OK, we’ll allow for processors, quality control labs and logistics, but nothing else.’ So you really have to look at it as a city as those five particular areas, and that’s what we’re trying to learn about.”

Of the five areas, the one that gets the most attention is dispensaries, as those are locations where those who want to partake in cannabis can purchase it, with money being exchanged.

After having a chance to be a part of the sessions this past March, Massey recently shared his evaluation as to how they went.

“Generally, I thought they went really well and the purpose was achieved, which is we wanted to listen to folks who covered different areas of the cannabis industry — what the pluses, minuses, challenges and opportunities, from their perspective, were. It was very informational for us.”

Farmington Hills Council member Valerie Knol had a similar perspective.

“I think they went well,” she said. “We had a lot of cannabis business owners that were interested in being part of the presentations.”

As the owner of the Greenhouse of Walled Lake, Jerry Millen took part in one of the listening sessions.

“I think it went great. I’m glad Farmington (Hills) is taking the time to understand the industry before just jumping into it,” Millen said. “I appreciate that Farmington Hills asked us to be part of that roundtable.”

Getting the views of cannabis industry representatives was just one step in what could turn out to be a lengthy process.

“We have completed the first stage of the process,” Farmington Hills Council member Michael Bridges stated via email. “We are now in stage two. This will involve reaching out (to) opt-in municipalities to learn about (their) experiences. The final stage will be a community outreach initiative.”

Such an initiative has not been officially scheduled yet, but from Massey’s perspective, it’s the most important step in the process.

“The residents are, in my perception, the most important stakeholders in this question,” he said.

Knol said that getting the perspective of representatives from the cannabis industry is just one side of the issue.

“While that was important, I think it’s also important to get other sides, and that would be the residents,” she said. “We need the residents’ opinions on this, and their thoughts.”

Although the state ballot initiative to approve recreational marijuana use did pass in Farmington Hills, from Massey’s perspective, that does not necessarily mean that the majority of residents are all-in on allowing cannabis dispensaries in Farmington Hills.

“I think it was about 54%, which means 46% of the people said no,” Massey said. “And then you talk to folks that said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine with the idea; I just don’t want it near me.’ Well, it’s gotta be near somebody, so that’s one of the reasons it’s so important to listen to the residents and try to figure our way through this in a very careful fashion.”

As for why some residents may want dispensaries in Farmington Hills, Knol pointed out that there would be a convenience factor for those who choose to partake in marijuana.

However, she is also aware that some residents may have concerns about dispensaries potentially leading to an increase in criminal activity.

“These are all-cash businesses, and so there is potential for increased theft,” Knol said. “The other reason there could be theft is stealing marijuana could be very profitable, because then you can sell it on the black market.”

According to federal laws, marijuana is illegal and considered a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it has high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

“We could fix the problem in the country by just taking it off Schedule I,” Massey said. “That gets rid of all the potential crime around cash businesses because you can put all the money in the bank, and you can use intra-bank transfers.”

Millen said that there has been “zero” problems with crime since opening the Greenhouse of Walled Lake approximately three years ago.

Although the possibility has been brought up that allowing dispensaries could turn out to be a “cash-cow” for Farmington Hills, both Massey and Knol are not entirely convinced that would be the case.

“When you listen to the industry folks, there would be a tax benefit to the community, in terms of taxable income to the community. But offsetting that is (an) increase in what we need to spend on the law enforcement side to ensure safety and so forth,” Massey said. “Listening to the advocates for the industry, it’s going to be a taxable benefit and there will be very little needed.”

If dispensaries were to be approved in Farmington Hills, it would have to be determined if they would be zoned in an industrial area or a commercial district.

Massey said that would “remain to be seen.”

Knol said that there are pros and cons to allowing dispensaries in Farmington Hills.

One of her concerns is that the city could find itself in court.

“I do know that many cities that have opted into marijuana licenses are in a constant battle of lawsuits,” Knol said. “There are always more marijuana businesses trying to get licenses than licenses available, and because of that, it tends to be a very litigious issue.”

The businesses that don’t get a license can claim that the process was “not legit,” according to Knol.

“There’s a cost to the citizens of Farmington Hills for every lawsuit that we have to fight in court. Whether we win it or lose it, there’s still a cost. So that’s also a concern,” Knol said.

A timeframe has not currently been established for the next steps in the process.

From Massey’s perspective, Farmington Hills City Council is taking a patient approach.

“We (want to) make sure that whatever we end up doing, we do it with very small steps so that the rights and concerns of our citizens are foremost in this process,” he said.

Knol shared her rationale as to why it’s a good idea to not rush into a decision about whether or not to permit marijuana dispensaries in Farmington Hills.

“It’s important that we do our due diligence and get all the facts, because this is a major decision, and once you implement it and set up a process for licenses, it’s very difficult to then cancel those licenses if you decide you’re not happy with it (and) no longer want marijuana businesses in your city,” she said. “So you better be thoughtful and make sure you have all the factual information.”

Millen was complimentary of Farmington Hills’ attempts to gather information before making a decision.

“I think it’s good, the approach they’re taking,” he said.