Detroit — Two years after the city opted to allow recreational marijuana, Detroit’s City Council approved a new, more-inclusive ordinance in an effort to award licenses for recreational-use dispensaries in Michigan’s largest city.
The development follows a longstanding disagreement among leaders and residents over how much opportunity should specifically be given to longtime Detroiters. The city’s initial attempt was discouraged last year after a federal judge ruled its first ordinance approved in 2020 was “likely unconstitutional” for providing too much preference to legacy Detroiters.
On Tuesday, the council voted 8-1 on the latest ordinance following two hours of discussion. At-large Councilwoman Mary Waters voted against it, citing a “broken licensing system” in the ordinance.
“This ordinance is not a perfect ordinance,” Mayor Pro Tem James Tate said. “There is an opportunity beyond today to make advancements.”
Tate introduced the latest ordinance in February using the same language as the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency’s social equity program. That language opens benefits to all residents from 184 communities in the state that were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, rather than just Detroiters.
“As (Councilman Scott) Benson says, these are etched in butter, not stone. … I encourage everyone to continue moving forward and not be discouraged by how challenging this process has been thus far,” he said.
The ordinance goes into effect on April 20; however, the city’s Civil Rights, Inclusion, & Opportunity Department has to provide the council with a recommended date of when licenses can begin being issued, and then, the City Council is required to vote to approve that date. CRIO officials said they will need 90 days to hire a third-party scoring firm for the license applications and to identify a program to host the lottery for any remaining licenses should the scores come to a tie.
Entrepreneurs who obtain a license from the city must also obtain a state license.
City Council President Mary Sheffield said she supported the ordinance because voters overwhelmingly wanted the legalization of recreational marijuana which will “create generational wealth, create revenue for Detroiters, the opportunity for our residents to purchase and consume safe and regulated cannabis within our city limits.”
The 2018 ballot proposal to legalize recreational marijuana was supported by 68% of Detroit voters.
“It was a long time coming to the finish line, and I’m glad we’re here today,” Sheffield said.
Meanwhile, Waters said in a statement she voted no because the ordinance “took away protections for community members.”
“The (ordinance) created a licensing system that opens our city up to exploitation from out-state big-business interests,” Waters said. “I will continue to stand with the community and will work to ensure that, despite this broken licensing system, longtime Detroiters have a fair shot at owning the marijuana businesses in our city.”
Waters also called on the federal government to ensure that marijuana businesses have access to banking services nationwide. Currently, businesses can only accept cash or debit as the plant is not federally legal.
How ordinance works
The new ordinance provides options for provisional licenses, adding social equity and non-equity tracks and creating rounds of distributing 110 total licenses. The licenses, including designated consumption and microbusinesses, will be awarded over three phases that will be spaced out three months apart.
The 2018 ballot proposal required state regulators to implement a social equity proponent in communities, including Detroit, that “have historically been excluded from ownership opportunities in the legal marijuana industry due to the disproportionate impact of marijuana prohibition, enforcement, the lack of access to capital, land, and resources,” according to the city ordinance.
Longtime Detroit residents, who own at least a 51% stake in a business, can be certified by the city as a “Detroit legacy” applicant and still benefit from city assistance with business plans, reduced costs and fees, networking and discounted zoned city properties.
The ordinance does not limit the number of licenses that may be issued for growers, processors, secured transporters or safety compliance.
In the first round, there will be 20 retailer licenses, five microbusiness licenses and five consumption licenses available for both social equity and non-equity applicants.
In the second round, there will be 15 retail, five microbusiness and five consumption licenses available for each track of applicants.
The highest-scoring applicants out of a 100-point rubric will be put into a lottery for the first licenses.
The system judges applicants’ business plan, site control and ability to pay taxes. It requires a “good neighbor” plan — that businesses show how they are committed to hiring Detroiters, purchasing from local businesses, don’t overcharge consumers and plan to invest in the surrounding neighborhood to leave a positive impact.
Separately, applicants have the opportunity to score up to 27 additional points by giving away portions of the business to a longtime Detroiter for social-equity certification.
Tate said city officials are in the process of reducing the zoning restriction for dispensaries from 1,000 feet to 750 feet and potentially increasing city funding assistance from $500,000 to $1 million.
Real estate concerns
More than a dozen public commenters joined Tuesday’s discussion advocating for more funding for legacy applicants to secure commercial real estate in a “price-gouging market.”
In late March, the state announced the distribution of $42 million to 163 local and county governments with licensed adult-use cannabis businesses. Those payments were a share of more than $1.1 billion in recreational marijuana sales reported last fiscal year.
Detroit has 30 medical marijuana facilities within the city limits, but no recreational business due to the ordinance’s hold-up.
“I am thankful that Detroit will finally join the 23 municipalities in Michigan that have allowed adult-use cannabis licensing within its borders,” Tate said later Tuesday. “But the goal has never been to simply have licensing within the city, but to create policy that works to address the inequities that so many Detroiters have experienced trying to pursue an opportunity in this industry.”