Federal Judge Bernard Friedman addressed his virtual courtroom last week sans judicial robes. Credit: Zoom

A federal judge promised a written decision within three weeks on whether to allow Detroit’s adult-use cannabis permitting system favoring long-time city residents.

“This is a very important case, and I think the people of the City of Detroit have a right to know exactly what my ruling is,” said Judge Bernard Friedman after hearing oral arguments last Thursday, as he announced his intention to release a written opinion.

On April 7, Judge Friedman issued a temporary restraining order (TRO), restricting Detroit from processing or issuing any cannabis permit while the case is under consideration.

Plaintiff Crystal Lowe, a resident of River Rouge, a Detroit suburb surrounded by Detroit on three sides, is suing the city on the grounds that it favors so-called “legacy” Detroiters who have lived in the city a total of 15 years over a 30-year period, violating the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. Lowe, 33, has also lived in Detroit for ten years.

[Read the plaintiff’s briefthe defendant response]

Attorney Emily Palacios, representing the City of Detroit, responded in oral arguments that the plaintiff’s complaint is irrelevant, because, “There is no interstate market for marijuana, so the Detroit legacy provision cannot be said to discriminate against interstate commerce,” argued Palacios.

Long-standing court precedent says the federal constitution only has a role to play in cases where there is interstate commerce, but because cannabis is federally illegal, there is no interstate commerce in this case, says Palacios.

Detroit’s ordinance includes a poison pill clause, which nullifies the entire adult-use permitting system if any portion of the law is struck down in court. 

“The City is not interested in participating in the state’s adult-use marijuana market if it cannot enforce its legacy provisions,” said City Councilman James Tate in a brief filed on behalf of the city in court.

Two weeks ago, a group calling itself the “Legacy Advocates” filed an amicus brief for the case, arguing that the plaintiff is not guaranteed a license, and is thus complaining about speculative damage the Legacy program could do to her, while the TRO is “an ‘injury in fact’ that is concrete, particularized and imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical”. 

[Read the amicus brief]

The Legacy Advocates include cannabis advocates from Chicago, New York, and California, as well as half a dozen Detroit resident applicants who have invested tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in pursuit of a license.


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...