Addressing Cannabis Dispensary Saturation in Ypsilanti Through Zoning Amendments

April 4th, 2024 Legislation & Policy Updates
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Ypsilanti is currently facing a unique situation, with a notably high density of cannabis dispensaries in comparison to other cities in the state. This observation was highlighted by the city's planner, Joshua Burns, who pointed out the disproportionate number of dispensaries in the city. In response to growing concerns that Ypsilanti might be transforming into a so-called "weed city," city officials are contemplating zoning amendments aimed at limiting the expansion of cannabis retail outlets.

With 13 dispensaries presently operating within its boundaries, Ypsilanti's cannabis market is significantly saturated when compared to cities like Ann Arbor, which, based on proportional analysis, would equate to having merely three dispensaries. To address this imbalance, proposed zoning changes are being considered to reduce the number of potential locations for new cannabis retailers without imposing a strict limit on the total number of businesses. Andy Aamodt, a planning consultant collaborating with the city's planning commission, discussed these proposed regulations during a city council meeting. These changes would notably include adjustments to existing exemptions for marijuana microbusinesses, aligning them with the city's distancing guidelines designed to regulate the spacing between businesses.

Ypsilanti Zoning Map

The zoning ordinance adjustments aim to preserve the current businesses while decreasing the number of new entrants to approximately four, a significant reduction from the potential eight to over a dozen spots available under the current guidelines. Ypsilanti's approach to managing its cannabis market has evolved over time, including the removal of a previous cap on the number of marijuana businesses to avoid potential litigation concerning the allocation of limited permits. However, the recent unanimous council vote signals a strong desire to revisit and potentially reimpose limitations on the expansion of cannabis retail operations.

The potential reinstatement of a cap on dispensaries has sparked a dialogue among city officials, business owners, and community members. Notably, Depot Town Cannabis owner Javier Valdez voiced concerns about the market's oversaturation and its detrimental impact on local businesses. The sentiment for reinstating a cap was echoed by former City Council member and current county Commissioner Annie Somerville, who emphasized the initial intent behind the city's cannabis policy was to foster social equity, not to enable large cannabis entities to overshadow smaller, community-focused businesses.

As city leaders deliberate on the best path forward, the conversation reflects a broader challenge facing municipalities as they navigate the complexities of integrating cannabis businesses into their communities while striving for balanced growth, social equity, and economic sustainability.

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