House of Dank, with their Detroit medical provisioning center location show here, is one of the dispensaries suing the City of Detroit, charging the city’s adult use sales law provides unlawful preference to Detroiters. Credit: House of Dank

A ballot initiative to repeal the city’s recreational cannabis ordinance backed by a group of Detroit medical cannabis dispensaries was tossed out by the city’s Department of Elections last week.

The organization formed to push the initiative, Citizens for Better Social Equity collected 3,867 signatures to provide Detroiters an opportunity to vote out an ordinance the city passed in April that legalizes adult use sales within city limits. However, the Department of Elections ruled petitioners failed to meet the Apr. 20 deadline to appeal the decision and therefore will not make the November ballot. 

Detroit’s April ordinance was its second attempt at legalizing adult use sales after a federal judge struck down the first ordinance in 2021, ruling that the law provided unfair preference to Detroit residents. City Council members intended their law – both versions – to provide social equity applicants a chance to gain easier access to the industry, a path that they believed was a good first step to solving the licensing disparities in the city for Black Detroiters.

Rick Thompson, executive director of NORML Michigan, said that the petition was poorly planned and likely to fail before it got off the ground but more opposition against the ordinance is mounting. 

“There may be lawsuits that end up being more successful. These folks feel that medical is going to get left behind,” said Thompson. “Detroit didn’t change what they tried to do, but just changed the titles. This is a pathway headed towards a predictable end.”

Michigan’s medical sales have steadily declined over the last year, as adult use sales have continued to climb as a proportion of all legal cannabis sales in the state.

Eric Foster, a cannabis lobbyist and attorney, believes the initiative could have gotten traction since Detroit’s ordinance could violate the 2006 Michigan’s Civil Rights Initiative.

“Everything is in a quagmire,” Foster says. “Detroit’s ordinance is still going to be up against statutory violations. They just are continuing to go down the wrong path in terms of implementing this successfully. The petitioners just failed to do their homework.

Detroit was sued for a second time in May over the ordinance, with four medical dispensaries claiming that they give preferential treatment to newer applicants and could risk driving medical facilities out of business. Last Friday, another dispensary filed suit against the city. The new ordinance does not explicitly prohibit medical businesses from applying for recreational licenses in Detroit outright, but the suit claims that it would make it very difficult to survive without a recreational license to compete adequately within the five-year period they are required to follow.

Thompson believes there needs to be a different strategy for helping social equity applicants in the city with things such as grants and mentorship from other large MSO’s, even if it requires additional time and funding. 

“I’d like Detroit to come up with a way to give social equity applicants a chance to get started but they aren’t going about it the right way,” Thompson says. “I don’t think you can codify it by law here, but it is possible to create a department and social programs that help those Detroiters.”

Citizens for Better Social Equity did not respond to requests for comment by publication.

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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.