SALINE, MI — Ever since Saline gave the OK to recreational marijuana, the city of Saline has seen an onslaught of interest from retailers.
According to councilman Jim Dell’Orco, city offices were “inundated” with proposals.
Officials even decided to temporarily stop accepting new applications while smoothing out some creases in the process, eventually voting to increase the original 250-foot buffer between pharmacies to 1,000 feet.
“I think that was perhaps the only flaw that existed in the original ordinance,” said Saline Mayor Brian Marl. “Our concern is that we will become saturated with marijuana dispensaries in the town of Saline.”
There are currently six proposed marijuana locations: the former Mickey’s Dairy Twist at 751 West Michigan Ave., Come Dancing at 465 E. Michigan Ave., Zax Auto Wash at 660 E. Michigan Ave., Octapharma Plasma at 813 W. Michigan Ave., 7608 E. Michigan Ave. near Tractor Supply Co. and Lot20A, the commercial area next to Zippy Auto Wash.
“I knew there was going to be a lot of interest because the players in this business are a cash operation … They have a lot of money to play with,” Dell’Orco said.
READ MORE: Saline opens door to recreational marijuana businesses within city limits
Saline first voted to legalize medical marijuana in June 2021. Then, in March 2022, the city council voted to allow recreational marijuana businesses in the city.
Saline decided not to cap marijuana permits, instead restricting businesses to specific zones in business parks outside of downtown and using buffers to limit the number of retailers. This made it even more attractive to potential companies.
Shaun Mansour, attorney and owner of Rush Cannabis – one of the dispensaries playing for Saline – said one thing that makes the city “attractive” is the lack of a cap.
“I commend Saline for creating an ordinance … that essentially limits the number of sites by zoning them,” Mansour said. “There are a number of municipalities that have a ranking or point system that almost always leads to lawsuits because it’s arbitrary.”
Dell’Orco said there are a few other reasons for allowing leisure retailers in the city aside from giving voters what they want and generating tax revenue.
One of Dell’Orco’s key reasons was to maintain control of how marijuana is regulated in the city rather than allow others to control it.
“Essentially, the people who want to start these companies with their lobby and their people would be in the driver’s seat,” he said. “If they got their own proposals on the ballot and voters agreed, the city would lose a lot of control over the zoning and licensing and regulation of these companies unless we chose to stand in front of it.”
Not only that, Dell’Orco said the city also expects retailers to refurbish vacant lots or older buildings that could be renovated — though some applicants have indicated that’s not necessarily the case.
“To an extent that has happened, but what we find in the application process is that they either want to buy completely vacant land and build from scratch, or they want to buy out existing companies,” Dell’Orco said.
A key place that highlighted this was Mickey’s Dairy Twist. When residents learned that the popular local ice cream parlor was on the verge of becoming the city’s first pharmacy, there was a backlash in the community.
Rush Cannabis is expected to fill the former site of longtime ice cream parlor Saline upon final site plan approval.
Mansour said he’s seen pharmacies rehabilitating old buildings that other retailers wouldn’t touch. He said Mickey’s Dairy Twist is an example of a building that could use a transformation.
The pharmacy has another location in Hazel Park, which opened in April. Mansour said Rush Cannabis aims to open its Saline location by Thanksgiving and be the first dispensary in town.
READ MORE: No more ice cream at Mickey’s Dairy Twist, but saline marijuana store planned
Saline City Council member Kevin Camero-Sulak is not surprised by the number of applications the city is receiving.
“We seem to have a plethora of applications … but that doesn’t mean that all of them will be approved or that there are sites that they can rent or build,” he said.
Despite the many applications, Marl isn’t worried about the city being flooded with marijuana or all dispensaries surviving. He predicts that two to three – possibly four – pharmacies will land in the city.
“I think in this particular situation the market will eventually correct itself if, and if that’s the keyword, we get saturated with saline dispensaries,” he said.
As marijuana continues to evolve at Saline, Marl looks to surrounding areas like Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and recognizes that recreational marijuana retailers can work. He encourages city residents to reach out to them with questions and concerns.
“Just look around Washtenaw County,” he said. “We have countless examples of good, attractive, stable communities that have embraced these types of industries, and it hasn’t… impacted the quality of life in their respective communities.”
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