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Black Cannabis Blog

Detroit recreational licensing, Whaddup Doe?

I’Sha Schultz-Spradlin
Bio: Writer. Host of Eyesha, Please podcast. Cannamom. Cannapreneur Op-ed

Detroit is historically one of the Blackest cities in America. You wouldn’t know that if you just looked at owners and operators of our cannabis establishments though. Both medically and recreationally, Black folks have been left behind the Green Rush in Detroit. However, folks like Councilman James Tate are working TIRELESSLY for that to change. Like with anything innovative and in favor of Black folks, the legislative blocks and critique have been ABUNDANT. From lawsuits to the lack of considerate zoning recreational establishments Detroit’s cannabis market has been a rollercoaster ride to say the least. Detroit legacy and Social equity applicants are being harshly affected by stall. These are folks who have lived in Detroit for at least 10 years, have been convicted of a crime with a controlled substance (marijuana) and those who live in disproportionately impacted areas for 5 of 10 cumulative years. With lawsuits stalling the licenses, zoning making it almost impossible to find properties, and the limited number of recreational licenses even available it has many Detroiters like, “whaddup doe?!”

Detroit’s recreational licensing was set to open the Summer of 2021, but has been pushed to Spring of 2022. It was halted due to a lawsuit filed against the city regarding the Detroit legacy ordinance being “likely unconstitutional”. The Detroit legacy ordinance provides those who qualify with a 99% discount on citywide license fees, 75% discount on select city owned property and 50% of all licenses must be Detroit legacy applicants. You can see why folks are in their feelings about it, but the ordinance was created for good reason. When the medical licenses opened in Detroit, most establishments that opened were NOT owned by Detroiters. The ordinance was put into place to ensure that Detroiters got a fair chance in the recreational industry. The cost of licensing and the capital requirements needed to open a cannabis business is what many Detroiters cited as barriers to entry. However, even with this ordinance and with at least 400 applicants registered for Detroit legacy are there even enough licenses to go around?

When it comes to how many of each license type is available to apply for, the city of Detroit went conservative. Of the 10 license types only 6 types are unlimited (Grower, Processor, Secured Transporter, Safety Compliance Facility, Marihuana Event Organizer and Temporary Marihuana Event), with the other 4 being capped from at 35 and 75 (Microbuisness, Designated Consumption Lounge, Adult-use Retailer Establishment and Medical Marihuana Provisioning Center). With a city as large and vacant as Detroit, you’d think they’d have them all unlimited in order to combat the issue of blight in the city, but I digress. With the number of Detroit legacy, social equity, and regular applicants this makes the playing field a bit uneven. Especially when 50% of all licenses available MUST go to Detroit legacy applicants, literally slicing the number of licenses in half. Though that alone isn’t what makes licensing so difficult, zoning is the nail in the coffin.

There are two parts to applying for a license in MI, there is prequalification for a license and then the ACTUAL license specific to the county you wish to open your business. Before you can even apply for the recreational license, you need a property. Your property must comply with the City of Detroit’s Drug-Free zones, meaning it must be 1,000 feet from Active Parks, Existing Religious Institutions, Detroit Public Schools and Other Educational Sites, Child Care Facilities, Controlled Uses (Beer, Wine and Liquor Stores), Libraries, Youth Oriented Facilities, and Existing Medical Marijuana Retailers. Anyone who’s ever visited or lived in Detroit knows the city has a liquor store, church and childcare center on almost every non-residential block. Though these parameters make sense it also makes it very difficult to find a property within the “Green Zones” or there be enough properties for even the 50% of Detroit Legacy applicants.

The concept in theory and on paper is very innovative and one of the most progressive ordinances in the recreational cannabis market. Like with most things innovative, it needs more workshopping to truly benefit those in need. Right now Councilman Tate and his team are working diligently with Black cannabis business owners and applicants to have these things worked out by Spring 2022 and I’m looking forward to it. I want to see this plan work and truly ease the barriers of entry to the very same residents who kept Detroit running over the last 20 years or so. They deserve to have a stake in this billion dollar industry in one of the largest cities in America. Black folks deserve to be owners and operators in the cannabis industry not just consumers and employees and Detroit is working hard to make it so.

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