By Meghan Christian
Approximately 46 Flint residents, mostly from the College Cultural Neighborhood (CCN), stood before Flint City Council on Monday, March 26 and again on Wednesday, March 28 to voice their opinions on the creation of a new marijuana dispensary in the old Family Video located at E. Court Street and Franklin Avenue.
The discussion focused around possible changes to a zoning ordinance which would allow marijuana distribution centers within 500 feet of a church or playground, instead of the current 1,000 feet. These possible changes would also involve updating the definition of a city park, so that parks will have to have playground equipment to still be considered a park.
Issues raised by residents ranged from the dangers of marijuana as a drug to public safety concerns. Carolyn Shannon, resident of the Seventh Ward, touched on the “criminal element of marijuana” and added, “It’s not good for me, it’s not good for Flint.”
Many other residents voiced concerns that another marijuana dispensary would negatively impact not only the property values of their homes, but also the well-being of the residents, especially those with children. “Profit should not override people,” Rhina Griffel, CCN resident, said.
Mike Keeler, president of the College Cultural Neighborhood Association (CCNA) reminded the council that this was not the first time residents of the CCN have spoken out against another dispensary in the neighborhood, especially when there is already a dispensary located at the corner of Court Street and Dort Highway, as well as a few others within a few blocks. In 2016, he pointed out, the current ordinance kept a marijuana dispensary from being put in that exact location because it is within 1,000 feet of a city park.
“The supermarket’s gone away [Mitchell’s, a longtime landmark at the site] the video store [Family Video, closed after 12 years] has moved and left a vacant building, but I’m here to say that my neighborhood still doesn’t want a marijuana facility in the center of my neighborhood,” Keeler said.
Sherry Hayden, vice president of the CCNA, echoed Keeler’s sentiment and added it is not an issue of the positives or negatives of medical cannabis, but a zoning issue, according to residents of the CCN.
“We don’t need a marijuana business next to a liquor store in a tiny little business center in the heart of a residential area,” Hayden said. “This is not an issue about the pros or cons of marijuana, it’s a zoning issue. It’s about a poor fit in that location,” she added.
While the overwhelming majority of those who spoke were from the CCN, they urged those in attendance to not see it as just a CCN issue, but as something that could potentially have an impact on all the neighborhoods throughout the city.
“Don’t isolate any of our wards. If you don’t have any [marijuana dispensaries] and your residents are fine with it, then okay… We are just asking that it would be considered that you think about where we live,” Councilwoman Monica Galloway said.
“You deserve what you want in your neighborhood,” Second Ward Councilman Maurice Davis said.
Not all spoke on the cons of marijuana, but on the importance of maintaining our city parks and opposing the change to the ordinance that would require playground equipment for the space to be considered a park.
“Parks are not just for children, they are for every resident of the city. Parks are green space for everyone,” said CCN resident Ernesto Anez.
Some addressed the misconceptions medical marijuana dispensaries have in the city. Benjamin Horner, owner of the first dispensary in Flint, said he spoke from personal experience. According to Horner, their location on Dort Highway hasn’t had any large safety concerns other than two minor break-in attempts and asserted that owners of these establishments are upstanding.
Looking to dispel other misconceptions those in attendance might have, Councilwoman Eva Worthing reminded residents that medical marijuana should be looked at differently than recreational marijuana because of how patients are able to receive it and because of the benefits that marijuana can have for individuals suffering from opioid addiction and withdrawal.
“I am absolutely in favor of medical marijuana,” Worthing said. “We have an opioid crisis right now, and that, to me, if you are not upset or appalled…then I am confused as why you are appalled at someone going to get their marijuana as their healing resource,” she added.
First Ward Councilman Eric Mays urged residents to remember to look at the problem as a whole and informed them that under the current zoning ordinance, it would be impossible to put a marijuana dispensary in the old Family Video location. This is because it sits in a D2 district, meaning it is both commercial and residential, and dispensaries and other distribution centers are only allowed in D5 and D6, which are predominately industrial districts, not residential.
“This ordinance is D5 and D6, so you can tell the neighbors, don’t worry about the video store. No one is trying to lower this one down to D2,” Mays said.
While it was thought that city council would vote on the ordinance on Wednesday, the discussion has been moved to 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 4 during the Legislative Committee meeting. That meeting is open to the public and will be held on the third floor of City Hall.
EVM Managing Editor Meghan Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.