Judge: City rule outlaws cannabis curbside pickup
ALPENA — At an Alpena marijuana store, employees can deliver orders to customers’ front doorsteps, but — according to a city rule, as decided by a judge on Monday — not to the store’s parking lot.
The rule seemingly makes little sense, but the city’s intent in writing the rule is clear, said Judge Ed Black, asked to interpret an ordinance used to bring a halt to the store’s curbside delivery service.
“I can’t make it make sense,” Black said. “That’s not my job.”
Black, in Alpena’s 26th Circuit Court, on Monday heard arguments from Kevin Currier, owner of Neighborhood Provisions in Alpena, who challenged the city’s interpretation of the rule after he was ordered to stop delivery to four parking spaces behind the store building.
According to Alpena ordinance 18-1(d)(1)(c), under the heading Medical marihuana facilities and adult use marihuana establishments, “All business operations of a facility or establishment must occur indoors. Facilities and establishments may not provide drive-thru service.”
Currier followed the city’s rule by conducting all pickup-related financial transactions and order preparation — and, therefore, all business — indoors, he told Black through attorney Denise Burke.
“‘All’ is the operative word here,” said city attorney Bill Pfeifer, arguing that the court and the city have to follow the most obvious interpretation of the ordinance — even if it seems illogical.
Neighborhood Provisions, like several other cannabis stores in the area, holds a license for home delivery. The state gives businesses with the proper license the right to such deliveries, whether or not a community wants them, but leaves permission about curbside delivery up to individual municipalities.
When Currier last year met with city leaders to get the OK to establish his business, he left the meeting believing they had approved him for curbside delivery, Burke said.
The city leaders thought otherwise, Pfeifer said.
Pfeifer noted that, immediately following the language about indoor business operations, the city ordinance explicitly prohibits drive-through windows for cannabis businesses.
To say the city would forbid employees to hand merchandise through a window but allow the same employees to carry items into the parking lot “defies logic and common sense,” Pfeifer said.
Black agreed, saying the city’s rule, as written, means Currier can’t resume curbside delivery — even though, Black said, he finds the rule’s clash with the store’s legal home delivery “comical.”
“What happens if you live in your car?” Black mused.
Community ordinances will have to evolve along with the cannabis industry, Burke said, noting that many other communities have changed vague wording like Alpena’s to specify what they want and don’t want in their midst.
To the agreement of the other attorneys, Pfeifer wondered what other area of law, outside of cannabis regulations, allows communities to pick and choose whether or not to follow state laws based on local preference.
“It makes no sense,” he said, suggesting that the state, like communities, will have to adapt to the rapidly changing industry.
Currier, after the hearing, said he understands the hesitancy of some city leaders to commit to opening doors to help people obtain a drug that for a long time was illegal and shunned.
“They’re having to restructure their world view,” Currier said. “I get it. It’s scary.”
The store’s business dropped when it stopped offering curbside pickup at the city’s order, with parents who can’t bring their children inside and people experiencing serious illness among those hardest hit by the change, Currier said.
“We’re just trying to take it out to their car,” he said. “And then you hit this roadblock.”
Some people unable to go into a store take advantage of home delivery, but many customers, including those who use for pain relief, fear what their neighbors will think if they see the store’s delivery vehicle in front of their house, Currier said.
The business owner intends to encourage city leaders to change the ordinance to clearly allow curbside pickup at local cannabis businesses.
“We’ll get it going,” he said, hopefully. “We’re all just figuring this mess out together.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jriddleX.