The Theodore Levin Federal Courthouse in Detroit. Credit: Ken Lund / Flickr

On Thursday a federal judge struck down Detroit’s “Legacy” adult-use cannabis licensing scheme, finding that it “likely unconstitutional” and, “The challenged provisions of the Detroit Ordinance do not appear to be rationally related to the stated purpose of rectifying the harm done to City residents by the War on Drugs.”

According to the city’s ordinance legalizing adult-use sales in the city, once a judge has struck down any portion of the law, the entire law is made invalid. So, unless the City of Detroit appeals the case to a higher court and wins, the city is back to square one on allowing adult-use cannabis sales.

[Download Judge Bernard Friedman’s ruling on Crystal Lowe v. City of Detroit]

Detroit Councilman James Tate, the chief author of the ordinance, issued a statement Thursday saying that he is reviewing next steps, but “I would like to make it clear that no adult-use licenses will be issued in the city unless Detroit residents are provided the ability to truly compete for the same wealth building opportunities that other communities have benefited from in the cannabis industry.

Detroit’s “Legacy” license ordinance, so named because it refers to long-time “legacy” Detroiters,  limits the number of dispensary licenses to 75, requires that half of those licenses go to current residents with at least 15 consecutive years of residency (less for those with cannabis-related arrests), and a created “one-for-one” system, where a non-Legacy license can’t open until a corresponding Legacy license opens.

Crystal Lowe, a ten-year Detroit resident who now lives in neighboring River Rouge, argued that the Legacy system is discriminatory, and that she should have the right to open her own store in the city. 

There are currently 46 medical-license dispensaries in Detroit, 42 of them owned by non-Detroiters. That means, under the Legacy ordinance, five currently operating Detroit medical-only dispensaries would have to either close, or sell 51% of their ownership to Legacy Detroiters to stay open and seek a city license.

Judge Bernard Friedman’s nineteen page opinion and order granting a preliminary injunction goes far beyond the plaintiff’s specific concerns and addresses the city’s underlying intention to address inequities resulting from the War on Drugs. Friedman writes, “Certainly, many people who have lived in Detroit for this period of time [ten years], or longer, have not been burdened with a marijuana-related arrest or conviction. And just as certainly, many people who have lived in Detroit for fewer than ten years have been significantly burdened by such an arrest or conviction. Giving ‘social equity’ preference to the former group while denying it to the latter is irrational. It is also irrational to grant the preference to residents of Detroit but deny it to those of other communities, such as neighboring River Rouge, when residents of both cities presumably suffered from the War on Drugs to the same extent.”

Contacted for comment, neither Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan nor plaintiff Crystal Lowe’s attorneys responded by publication.


Editor Mike is a co-founder and the editor of Grown In, a U.S. national cannabis industry newsletter and training company. His career has taken him from Capitol Hill to Chicago City Hall, from...