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How to Open a Dispensary in Detroit

Open Dispensary in Detroit

To open a dispensary in Detroit, applicants must follow all local ordinances, especially the zoning ordinance. On Dec. 17th, 2015, the City of Detroit passed legislation to regulate the medical marijuana dispensary industry. This zoning ordinance imposed a significant number of requirements and restrictions that dispensaries must comply with.

Location Restrictions

Dispensaries are only allowed to operated in certain zones. These zones are specified commercial business and industrial areas called B2, B4, and M1-M4.

  • B2 – Local Business and Residential District, provides day-to-day consumer goods and services to serve a small residential area.
  • B4 – General Business District. Businesses in thoroughfare oriented areas that may benefit from passing foot traffic.
  • M1 – Limited Industrial District. Typically are blocks that contain older, vacant structures and other deficiencies and where the City’s plan is to use for industrial development. Warehousing, wholesaling and light industrial uses are normal.
  • M2 – Restricted Industrial District is devised for a wide range of industrial and related uses and designed to provide a buffer between residential districts and intensive industrial districts
  • M3 – General Industrial District includes property so situated to be suitable for industrial development
  • M4 – Intensive Industrial District allows for uses that are generally objectionable and are never permitted to be located near residential areas. These requirements are to protect residences from an undesirable environment and to ensure reservation of adequate areas for industrial development.

Spacing Requirements

Perhaps the most restriction upon the location of a dispensary is the space required between other types of property uses/businesses, including being at least 1,000 feet away from:

  • Schools, Day Cares or other “Drug Free Zones”
  • Religious Institutions
  • Other MMCC’s except in industrial zones away from residential areas
  • Package liquor or package beer and wine

Interested in opening a dispensary in Detroit? Book your consultation now. 

Specific Street and Avenue Exclusions

A medical marijuana dispensary can’t be located on several streets in the City. However, that restriction is on designated portions of those streets, including:

  • Woodward
  • Gratiot
  • Jefferson
  • Michigan Avenue
  • Seven Mile Road near John R
  • Grand River near Woodmont and Evergreen
  • Bagley Avenue near West Vernor
  • Livernois and West McNicols
  • East Jefferson between Dickerson Avenue and the city limits of Grosse Pointe Park


Dispensaries must have at least one (1) parking space for every 200 square feet of the building. This parking must be on the parcel and under certain circumstances, may be shared with another property use.

Applications to the City as a Conditional Use

Anyone who wishes to obtain a dispensary license must apply to the City of Detroit Buildings and Safety Engineering Department for a conditional land use grant application. This application must include a site plan, floor plans and elevation plans. If a variance (explained below) is requested, it will be considered after preliminary approval of this application.

Interested in opening a dispensary in Detroit? Book your consultation now. 


There is a procedure to receiving special permission to open a dispensary in Detroit that is “too close” to a liquor store or church. This process is called obtaining a variance from the City. This could also include a business that isn’t in right zoning. To get a variance, you must apply through the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). The ZBA may vary the requirements and limitations that are in the zoning ordinance that pertain to spacing requirements. This is the requirements are especially strict, as spacing is difficult in practicality.

Similarly, the Board can deny any requests that aren’t in harmony with the intent and purpose of the Zoning Ordinance. They can require proof of correction of any violations or deficiencies prior to the approval of any zoning grant. A public hearing on the request for a variance shall be required to give the public an opportunity to provide support or objection.

Spacing or Locational Variance

To open a dispensary in Detroit, you may not operate too close to another dispensary. The spacing requirements between dispensaries are intended to prevent the over-saturation of this business type in a limited area, and to equitably operate them throughout the City. The Board of Zoning Appeals may adjust the spacing requirements between land uses as a “locational variance,” where the proposed use satisfies all the following conditions:

  1. All other applicable regulations within this zoning ordinance or this Code will be observed;
  2. The proposed use will not be contrary to the public interest or injurious to nearby properties in the proposed location, and the spirit and intent of the purpose of the spacing regulations will still be observed
  3. The proposed use will not aggravate or promote a deleterious effect upon adjacent areas through causing or encouraging blight, and will not discourage investment in the adjacent areas or cause a disruption in neighborhood development; and
  4. The establishment of the use in the area will not be contrary to any program of neighborhood conservation or interfere with any program of urban renewal.
  5. The requested variance or administrative adjustment is consistent with the Master Plan and the spirit, purpose, and intent of this Zoning Ordinance; and
  6. There are practical difficulties that prevent carrying out the strict letter of this Zoning Ordinance; and
  7. The requested variance or administrative adjustment eliminates a practical difficulty to the applicant; and
  8. The requested variance or administrative adjustment will have no significant adverse impact on the health, safety, or general welfare of surrounding property owners or the general public or upon the natural environment; and
  9. Any adverse impacts resulting from the variance or administrative adjustment will be mitigated to the maximum extent practicable; and
  10. The requested variance or administrative adjustment is required to compensate for some unusual aspect of the site or the proposed development that is not shared by landowners in general; and
  11. The special circumstances and conditions that account for the need for a variance or administrative adjustment are not the result of the applicant’s actions; and
  12. The variance or administrative adjustment shall not permit the establishment, within a zoning district, of any use which is prohibited within the district; and
  13. The variance or administrative adjustment would do substantial justice to the applicant as well as to other property owners in the district, and a lesser relaxation would not give substantial relief; and
  14.  In the case of City-owned land or property to be sold, the requested variance or administrative adjustment shall not conflict with the terms or conditions of the sale.

How to Open a Dispensary in Detroit

The City’s Zoning Board won’t allow a dispensary to open or continue to operate in violation of the zoning ordinance, unless they deem it not dangerous to public health. It also must be consistent with the City’s Master Plan. How the dispensary affects nearby properties and those owner’s wishes is also taken into consideration.

A public hearing is then held, so getting the surrounding property owners on-board is an important step. A strong showing of support for your dispensary is vital to its success.

Opening a dispensary in Detroit is not a simple process, especially when requesting an exception to the zoning ordinances spacing requirements. That’s why having qualified and experience legal counsel by your side is needed for ultimate success.

Barton Morris
Barton Morris has been providing high-quality legal representation in the area of state and federal criminal defense for more than 20 years.
The Cannabis Legal Group has been providing our clients professional and quality legal assistance in all aspects of representation for years.

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