Legal action threatened after cannabis dispensary prepares to open in Highland Park

posted on Jan 11, 2024 on DetroitMetroTimes

A judge struck down the city’s marijuana ordinance, but that hasn’t stopped a company from trying to open a dispensary.

Highland Park City Councilman Khursheed Ash-Shafii couldn’t believe his eyes.

After a judge struck down the city’s problematic recreational cannabis ordinance in July, a Michigan-based marijuana company went ahead and transformed a vacant building in the city into a dispensary anyway.

Nar Cannabis paved a new parking lot, renovated and painted the building, and installed signs and lights on Victor Street near Woodward Avenue.

The building hasn’t opened yet, but Ash-Shafii says representatives from the company were handing out T-shirts at the city’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony last month.

Ash-Shafii is suspicious that something “sinister” is happening behind closed doors. To renovate a building and erect signs, the company would need various permits from the city.

“So why would you allow someone to come into this city, pull a permit for electrical, plumbing, construction, and signage for a dispensary you know is never going to open, unless you have something sinister going on in the background and you found a loophole to open the dispensary,” Ash-Shafii tells Metro Times. “A dispensary is not a cheap investment. You are talking about at least a $100,000 investment to get the building ready. Who spends that kind of money unless they were promised something?”

Mayor Glenda McDonald declined to comment, citing “litigation that is pending.”

Nar Cannabis did not respond to Metro Times’s calls and emails for comment.

In May, Highland Park activist Robert Davis filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging the ordinance violated the Michigan Zoning and Enabling Act because city officials failed to get approval from the city’s Planning Commission to create eight zones where cannabis businesses were permitted to open. Davis claimed the past city council created the zones to benefit donors who had property in those areas.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Susan Hubbard agreed that the ordinance violated the act and struck down the ordinance in July.

The Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency has not approved a license for the dispensary.

Without a valid ordinance, dispensaries are prohibited from opening.

“Why would someone spend an unknown amount of money refurbishing a building, putting up signs, and advertising for a dispensary that has already been determined to be unlawful? It’s very suspicious to me,” Davis tells Metro Times. “I think there may be some corrupt conduct behind the scenes between elected officials in the city and the proposed building owner because it’s obvious from Judge Hubbard’s ruling that no such dispensary can open in Highland Park.”

In an email to the judge and the city’s attorney on Jan. 5, Davis said the city should be “held in civil and criminal contempt of Judge Hubbard’s order” if it tries to open.

Four minutes later, the city’s attorney, Anthony Chubb, responded to Davis, saying Highland Park had not authorized the dispensary to open and would take the issue to court if Nar Cannabis attempted to open.

“We are both on the same page [Nar Cannabis] should not be operating and if it attempts to do so, you are welcome to concur in my motions to stop the same,” Chubb wrote.

Chubb did not respond to Metro Times’s request for comment.

The mystery behind the building is just the latest eyebrow-raiser over Highland Park’s defeated cannabis ordinance.

Last year, the newly elected council tried to amend the ordinance to make it legal and to remove sections that council members said were ripe for corruption. The ordinance, for example, gave the clerk sole authority to dole out licenses. Typically cities give that responsibility to a board that can be held accountable.

The ordinance also included five zones where dispensaries were permitted to open. One was a two-block area of Woodward Avenue, where “a major funder” to city officials has a building, activists said. The donor also has a cannabis processing license.

Ash-Shafii says he’s not willing to create a new ordinance until illegal grow facilities in the city are forced to shut down. He alleges that police are looking the other way as illicit grow operations are cropping up in previously abandoned buildings.

“I made it clear to the mayor and the other council members that I won’t discuss a new ordinance until these illegal grow houses are shut down,” Ash-Shafii says. “And when we do discuss an ordinance, I want to do a referendum and let the people decide if they want it or not.”

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