ST. JOSEPH — A civil lawsuit filed last week at the Berrien County Courthouse questions the legality of Benton Harbor city commissioners’ decision to grant a special use permit for a medical marijuana dispensary at 200 E. Main St., saying it breaks the city’s ordinance.
City commissioners changed the ordinance the day after the lawsuit was filed, so the location is no longer in violation. It is unclear what effect this will have on the case.
The nine-point lawsuit was filed June 2 on behalf of Winn Wolf and his company, Wolf Management Properties LLC, which owns the Vincent Place at 185 E. Main St. It alleged that commissioners violated the city’s ordinance requiring that medical marijuana facilities be at least 500 feet from places of worship. It stated that the location is less than 500 feet from the Sikh Religious Society of Southwest Michigan on Territorial Road.
On June 3, commissioners held a special meeting amending the ordinance to take out the distance requirement. State law has no requirement on how far medical marijuana facilities must be from places of worship. Commissioners left intact the requirement that medical marijuana facilities be at least 1,000 feet from schools.
The lawsuit further stated that the city violated its ordinance by not having the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals consider his appeal to the dispensary’s location within 15 days. The city commission is also the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Commissioners approved on April 20 a special use permit for Justice Grown of Michigan to open a medical marijuana dispensary at 200 E. Main St. The lawsuit stated that Wolf filed an appeal on May 8.
The lawsuit asks that the courts mandate that the appeal be heard and that the ZBA be ordered to reverse the city commission’s approval of the special use permit. In addition, the lawsuit asked that the courts award Wolf reasonable attorney fees and any other relief deemed appropriate.
Even though the lawsuit was filed a day before the ordinance was amended, it addressed the possible amendment, stating that it was an “unlawful attempt to ‘correct’ Benton Harbor’s failure to enforce” its current ordinance.
“Such bad faith conduct by defendants, if permitted and if given effect, will cause irreparable damage to plaintiff’s by violating plaintiff’s fundamental and constitutional rights and as set forth herein,” it stated. “… No harm will come to defendant if the court compels defendant to follow the ordinance adopted only two years ago.”
In addition, the lawsuit stated that if the dispensary is opened across the street from the Vincent Place, Wolf will lose at least one tenant – Edward Jones – which has been in the building for 15 years.
Attached to the lawsuit is a letter from Bryan Tutton of Edward Jones, stating that when a marijuana dispensary moves near one of the offices, it is corporate policy to move the office due to the negative impact it has had in states like Colorado.
When contacted by phone, Wolf said he has managed the Vincent Place since 1988 and bought the building Jan. 1. He said it was his understanding that a medical marijuana dispensary could not be put at 200 E. Main St. because it is next to the Benton Harbor Library and is less than 500 feet from a place of worship. He said he probably wouldn’t have bought the building had he known the ordinance would be changed.
“If the city can guarantee that the spot will only sell medical marijuana and not recreational marijuana, I won’t like it, but I can live with it,” he said.
Commissioners have opted out of allowing recreational marijuana being sold in the city, but are considering opting back in.
City officials were unavailable for comment.