SALINE, MI — Ever since giving the OK to recreational marijuana, the city of Saline has experienced a rush of interest from retailers.
In fact, city offices have been “inundated” with applications, according to Council Member Jim Dell’Orco.
Officials even decided to temporarily halt accepting new applications while they smoothed out some wrinkles in the process, ultimately voting to increase the original 250-foot buffer between dispensaries to 1,000 feet.
“I think that was maybe the one deficiency that existed in the initial ordinance,” Saline Mayor Brian Marl said. “Our fear is that we were going to be oversaturated with marijuana dispensaries in the city 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 Lot 20A which is the business park parcel next to Zippy Auto Wash.
“I knew there would 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 the door to recreational marijuana businesses within city limits
The road to the weed rush
Saline first voted to allow medical marijuana in June 2021. Then in March 2022, city council voted to allow recreational marijuana businesses in the city.
Saline decided not to set a cap for marijuana permits, but to instead restrict businesses to specific zoning districts in commercial areas outside downtown and use buffers to limit the number of retailers. This made it even more alluring to prospective businesses.
Shaun Mansour, attorney and owner of Rush Cannabis — one of the dispensaries making a play for Saline — said one thing that made the city “attractive” was this lack of a cap.
“I commend Saline for creating an ordinance … that essentially restricts the number of locations by zoning them out,” Mansour said. “There’s a number of municipalities that do a ranking system or a point system and that almost always causes lawsuits because it’s arbitrary.”
Dell’Orco said there were a few different reasons behind allowing recreational retailers within the city besides giving voters what they want and generating tax revenue.
One of the important reasons for Dell’Orco involved maintaining control over how marijuana is regulated within the city instead of allowing others a chance to control it.
“Essentially, the folks that want to set up these businesses 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 the voters approved it — the city would lose a great deal of control over the zoning and the licensing and regulation of these businesses if we were not to opt in to get in front of it .”
Not only that, but Dell’Orco said the city also anticipated retailers would redevelop vacant properties or older buildings that could use renovations — however, some applicants have shown that is not necessarily the case.
“To some extent that’s happened, but what we’re finding in the application process is they either want to buy entirely vacant land and build from the ground up, or they want to buy out existing businesses,” Dell’Orco said.
Mickey’s Dairy Twist
One major location that highlighted this was Mickey’s Dairy Twist. There was a community backlash when residents learned the beloved local ice cream shop was poised to become the city’s first dispensary.
Rush Cannabis is expected to fill the former location of longtime Saline ice cream shop following final site plan approval.
Mansour said he has seen dispensaries redevelop old buildings that other retailers wouldn’t think to touch. He said Mickey’s Dairy Twist is an example of a building that can use a transformation.
The dispensary has one other location in Hazel Park that 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 marijuana shop planned for Saline staple
Future of marijuana in Saline
Saline City Council Member Kevin Camero-Sulak isn’t surprised by the number of applications the city is receiving.
“We have seemingly an abundance of applications … but it doesn’t mean that all of them are going to be approved or that there are locations that they can lease or build,” he said.
Despite the number of applications, Marl isn’t worried that the city will be overrun with marijuana or that all the dispensaries will last. He predicts two to three — possibly four — dispensaries will end up within the city.
“I do think in this particular situation, the market will eventually correct itself if, and if being the key word, we become oversaturated with dispensaries in Saline,” he said.
As marijuana continues to develop in Saline, Marl looks to surrounding areas like Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and realizes recreational marijuana retailers can work. He encourages the city’s residents to reach out with questions and concerns.
“Just look around in Washtenaw County,” he said. “We have innumerable examples of good, attractive, stable communities who have committed these types of industries and it hasn’t … detracted from the quality of life of their particular communities.”
READ MORE ON THIS TOPIC: Outcry over dispensary near day care prompts pause in marijuana permitting in Saline
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