The House of Zen, a woman and Black-owned medical provisioning center in Detroit is quickly losing customers to the suburban dispensaries.

Detroit officials had hoped a new adult use cannabis ordinance passed in April would give Black Detroiters a clear path into the state’s $2 billion cannabis industry. It may have ended up causing more problems than solving. 

“Not being recreational is hurting us. Everything is slowing down and we’re trying to just hold on,” Alexandria Weathersby says.

Weathersby manages House of Zen, a woman and Black-owned medical dispensary in Detroit. She is worried about going out of business, due to the state’s plummeting medical cannabis sales. She says operating hours are getting more difficult to manage and business is declining quickly. Sometimes her shop only sees around 10 customers a day.

Last month Cannabis Regulatory Agency (CRA) executive director Andrew Brisbo reported year-over-year medical sales have fallen 48% from a year ago, to $23.3 million per month in May while adult use sales increased by 56% during the same period to $163.2 million per month in May.

Detroit law restricts medical owners from applying for adult use licenses until 2027, which may force some to close their doors, unless they come up with another way to survive. As a result, the city is also facing two lawsuits in Wayne County Circuit Court filed by dispensaries that want to strike down the new ordinance.

“The City once again sees an opportunity to undercut these ‘outsiders’ in favor of its preferred candidates by prohibiting existing medical marijuana provisioning centers from even applying to sell adult use at their current locations for almost 5 years,” alleges a motion filed by a group of dispensary companies led by Detroit-based Haus of Dank dispensaries. “As the city knows the scheme will virtually guarantee the imminent demise of these facilities.”

A previous Detroit adult use ordinance attempt was struck down by a federal judge in 2020 as unconstitutional. The judge called it a “protectionist” measure that hurt non-Detroit residents.

“The owners put their retirement into this place,” Weathersby says. “We have been trying to make it work and we really want this. I think the Council was trying to make things fair but the longer this gets pushed out, the harder it is for everyone else. It’s crazy how Detroit can’t get this together after 3 years.”

Another Black-owned business, West Coast Meds, says they may be forced to close its doors if the ordinance is struck down. The medical dispensary manager, who asks to be referred to only as “Jay”, says the city is surrounded by other communities with adult use cannabis businesses freely selling weed, making West Coast Meds and other medical locations obsolete for Detroit-based customers who can drive a short distance. 

While Jay agrees the ordinance was meant to do good, and believes it was meant to help those affected by the War on Drugs to break into the industry, if the city’s second attempt at a cannabis ordinance is struck down, the cannabis industry would be hard set to recover in Detroit. 

“When you can go two or three miles to get whatever you want, nobody will renew [medical patient] cards anymore to come here,” Jay said. “It’s just a steady decline and it’s getting worse out here for us.”

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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.