The Detroit, Mich. skyline as seen from Canada. Credit: June West / Flickr

Detroit is finally allowing adult use businesses in city limits, but many believe that another lawsuit is around the corner.

Detroit City Council passed its new adult use ordinance earlier this month in an 8-1 vote to allow for recreational businesses to set up shop in the city. Applicants will be able to apply to open processing and cultivation sites, as well as dispensaries or cannabis lounges. Detroit Councilmember James Tate called the ordinance a good first step to solving the licensing disparities in the city for Black residents.

Michigan NORML Executive Director Rick Thompson expects Detroit will now see millions of dollars being used to invest in their communities.

“I’m happy that the ordinance has finally been passed for the people of the city,” Thompson said. “Let’s get this revolution into adult use going. This is a great thing for the growth of the city.”

The ordinance increases the number of adult use retail licenses from 76, which were proposed in earlier drafts, to 100, and creates a lottery system to award licenses to applicants who have not found a location to operate.

Although adult use weed sales was legalized in Michigan in 2018, Detroit’s history with recreational use has been complicated. City officials hoped to make room for lifelong Detroit residents and working class residents with its licensing process, particularly Black residents affected by the War on Drugs, and working class residents with its licensing process. 

Business owners and advocates in the state say that Detroit missing out on the $1.1 billion industry is leaving them behind as the city is missing out on millions of dollars annually that end up being spent at surrounding Detroit communities such as River Rouge, Ferndale, Center Line, and Hazel Park. The four communities racked up $1.1 million in cannabis tax receipts last year.

Thompson himself said that the city is missing out on at least $4.2 million from licensing alone.

However, Thompson and others believe that this happy period will not last and believes that will wind up in court once again.

Detroit’s Council first attempted an adult use licensing ordinance in Nov. 2020, but that measure was struck down last July after a federal judge said the ordinance “gives an unfair, irrational and likely unconstitutional advantage to long-term Detroit residents over all other applicants.”

Matt Abel, attorney for Cannabis Counsel, a law firm specializing in cannabis-related issues, said that the ordinance’s “Good Neighbor” criteria is one such issue that could benefit long-time Detroiters over others.

Jessica Jackson, Common Citizen’s Director of External Affairs and Social Equity, said she was on board with the original ordinance that was struck down and believes that the city’s new ordinance will stand.

Although working for a dispensary based in Flint, Jackson is still a Detroit resident and hopes to establish a longue and microbusiness. Jackson, an educator by trade, said that she wanted to join the industry to change the narrative of cannabis’ history, which she said is rooted in anti-Blackness.

“I think the city has done things in their power to determine that people are able to get into the industry. I hope that doesn’t yield another lawsuit,” Jackson said.

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Trey Arline is Grown In’s Midwest Reporter. He was most recently with the Daily Herald, but has also reported for Vegas PBS, The Nevada Independent, and the Associated Press.