Detroit City Councilman Scott Benson speaks to Council President Pro-Tempore James Tate at the meeting, Tuesday, March 29, 2022. Credit: Detroit City Council

Cannabis operators and aspiring adult use license holders will have to wait at least one more week, as the Detroit City Council delayed a vote Tuesday on approving a recreational license system to Apr. 5. Councilmembers are debating amendments to a revised plan that boosts recreational license applicants who lack capital as well as applicants affected by drug war policies. 

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.”

[Read the ordinance under debate (see page 426).]

Now attempting to write a new ordinance from whole cloth, the Council has been delayed as councilmembers have debated adding new provisions, such as increasing the number of retail licenses and expanding access to people who have a prior cannabis related felony to apply.

In the meantime, no recreational licenses have been issued within Detroit city limits, although it continues to approve medical licenses.

Although Michigan’s overall cannabis sales closed in on $1.8 billion in 2021, medical sales have been on the decline in the state. For instance, April 2021 medical sales were over $48 million while state regulators reported February 2022 medical sales at just under $26 million. As Detroit’s medical provisioning centers face declining sales, local operators are pressuring Michigan’s largest city to find a solution.

“There are so many people looking forward to getting this done and getting straight to business,” said Matt Abel, attorney for Cannabis Counsel, a law firm specializing in cannabis-related issues.

Abel said 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 totaled $1.1 million in retail sales last year.

“Several communities outside the city have thriving retail establishments that are getting a jump on Detroit. Done properly, it can help develop so much of the city.”

In February, Council President Pro-Tempore James Tate proposed a new ordinance to award half of the retail and grower license applications to “equity applicants,” which includes longtime Detroiters and people who live in disproportionately impacted communities where cannabis convictions exceed the state average.

After multiple delays, Councilmember Tate’s new ordinance was then delayed Mar. 22 after making changes to his original draft, including increasing the number of retail licenses that would be available from 75 to 100.

Councilmember Coleman A. Young II also sought to create a comparative analysis of Detroit and other U.S. cities with medical and/or adult use cannabis business models to see how they conduct business equitably in order to create a more even field for all applicants.

According to a draft introduced in the City Council earlier this month, one of Young’s proposed amendments includes a measure that would allow existing Detroit medical provisioning center owners to sell their land to social equity applicants in exchange for a city license to relocate their business. A second amendment proposed by Young would give current growers and processors in Detroit adult use recreational licenses.

[Read the proposed amendment here (see page 198).]

Leafly, a Seattle-based website analyzing cannabis businesses, ranked Michigan 13th of 19 states for equity in their state, saying the state could do more to ease the process of expungement and find a better way to support marginalized communities.

Neither Young nor Tate responded to requests for comment by Grown In 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.