OP-ED: Time for Cities to Get Smart About Marijuana

A cannabis tourist smells the marijuana product at a recreational dispensary in Denver, Colorado. Source: Wikimedia Commons "My 420 Tours"

Now that Michigan voters have decided to legalize marijuana for recreational use, cities need to get serious about how to regulate it – and fast.

Let’s start off with the worst case scenario for our communities. Your local politicians have dollar signs where their eyes once were, and decide they will regulate marijuana retailers in the exact same way they regulate liquor stores. That means we can look forward to a slew of hideous-looking storefronts filled with glowing green marijuana signs, flashing lights advertising promotions on gaudy signs, and a guy dressed as a pot leaf spinning a sign on the sidewalk.

The best-case scenario is one in which marijuana retailers bring value to our communities. Envision something closer to a craft beer brewery. These establishments are typically very hip, draw a younger crowd, and provide foot traffic to surrounding businesses.

Michigan is easily one of the strongest states when it comes to craft brew selection, and much of that has to do with the legal framework surrounding it. It is infrequent that you see craft breweries utilize ridiculous flashing lights and cringe-worthy alcohol-related puns in their advertising. Typically these establishments are well-received by their neighbors.

This is the model municipalities should follow, then.

A strict ban on any usage of a marijuana leaf on the storefront, or usage of the word marijuana (and its 1,000 nicknames) in the title of the building. The building should have to conform with the surrounding architecture – no, you aren’t allowed to paint your building green.

While visiting Ann Arbor to see a football game, I happened to pass a retailer for medical marijuana. I didn’t realize that’s what the building was until well after I passed it –the name was benign (something about healing); the building itself was beautiful (it has stone pillars); and nothing about it alerted me to the fact that this was, indeed, a dispensary. The building was clean, minimalist, and studious. It did not detract from surrounding businesses in the slightest. In fact, it added to them, giving the street a feeling of unity and continuity. This is an excellent example of marijuana retailing done right.

Finally, there is, of course, the cowardly option, which I assume most municipalities will take:

do nothing.

By abdicating responsibility and neglecting to provide a framework for the sale of marijuana, municipalities are tossing retailers of the drug into a legal gray area. In the land of the free, if something is not illegal, it is presumed to be legal. If your local bar decides to start selling marijuana, how will your local government react?

Although modern-day prohibitionists have lost on this issue, we can all agree that a solid framework for marijuana retailers is critical moving forward. We cannot abide sloppy laws from either side: one side promoting regulating marijuana to death, another side pushing for a wild west free-for-all.

Hopefully our local leaders, some of whom are my future colleagues, will see the wisdom in approaching this issue in a smart way. Our communities are counting on them getting it right.

— Brad O’Donnell Councilmember-elect, City of Utica

Send Mr. O’Donnell an email at Brad@bradodonnell.com or send a letter to the editor at Andrew@gazettemediagroup.com for publication.