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Detroit Council extends ban on recreational marijuana sales to spring

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend its temporary ban on recreational marijuana sales until spring as it works on a law to govern how they operate and ensure residents can participate.

City Councilman James Tate, who is leading the effort, introduced the ordinance last week to push back the city's opt-out period, stressing the potential billion-dollar industry should have a "pathway for Detroiters to be gainfully employed."

Councilman James Tate answers questions from the public during the hearing for recreational marijuana businesses in the city.

A draft ordinance prepared in the fall, he noted during a Tuesday public hearing, didn't go far enough to help residents of the post-bankrupt city.

"The rush is really trying to get it right, not to get it done. I'm not going to push an ordinance that is not ready," Tate said. "Detroit has had a situation where financially, the economic downturn was drastic ... this is an opportunity for us to make our residents whole."

The council voted on the extension after multiple advocates, residents and prospective marijuana business owners expressed frustration with the delay that they contend is holding people back from opportunity. Others applauded the council for its effort to set a standard for inclusion. 

Matthew Abel, a marijuana attorney, asked the council how long it was going to "kick this can" down the road. Abel urged council members to solicit more public feedback and publish a draft of the proposed ordinance.

Attorney Matthew R. Abel of Cannabis Counsel addresses the council about the lack of recreational marijuana in the city.

Abel noted Detroit Police Chief James Craig recently noted that black market sales of marijuana are leading to violence. Adding to that market, Craig said, is the lack of venues in Detroit where recreational marijuana can be legally purchased.

"The chief of police says the illegal market is causing illegal transactions. What's killing people is not marijuana, it's the prohibition of marijuana," Abel said. "We need consumption lounges in the city, otherwise people are going to continue to walk down the street and smoke marijuana."

Michigan voters approved a ballot proposal to legalize the adult-use of recreational marijuana in November 2018. Since then, more than 1,400 municipalities have instituted bans to prevent marijuana businesses from opening in their communities. 

The Marijuana Regulatory Agency issued the first recreational license in November. Recreational sales began Dec. 1.

Tate first introduced an ordinance in the fall to temporarily prohibit adult-use marijuana establishments in the city through Jan. 31. The potential billion-dollar industry, he's said, should have a "pathway for Detroiters to be gainfully employed."

As of last week, there were 64 licenses in the state, 36 of which are retailers, according to David Harns, a spokesman for the state's Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. 

Retail sales for recreational marijuana this month surpassed $10 million in Michigan. 

Tate has said his office has convened workgroups to identify the challenges faced by African Americans and other minorities who are seeking to get into business and identify avenues to help, including a reduction in application fees. 

A fund to aid with start-up and technical assistance is also being contemplated. It's unclear where the dollars would come from or how such a fund would be managed. 

Individuals who own and operate medical marijuana dispensaries in Detroit that have come online in recent years "overwhelmingly are not residents of the city of Detroit," Tate said.

Shannon Williams of High Quality Provisioning Center in Pinconning addresses the council about opportunities in opening a recreational marijuana facility in the city.

"We've seen within the medical marijuana industry in the city of Detroit that the individuals that own and operate these facilities, by and far and large, are individuals that live outside the city of Detroit and take the resource that they gain back to their communities," Tate said Tuesday. "We're not anti-marijuana. But we're pro Detroit."

Shannon Williams of High Quality Provisioning Center, a provisioning center in Pinconning, said she was the first African American to get licensed by the state.

She wants to have a footprint in the city's recreational marijuana industry and mentor others. 

"I would love to bring my business to the city and give back to the community while also creating job opportunities for other African-American people who want to get into this industry," Williams said. "Additionally, I'm willing to assist in any way possible as it relates to teaching others how to enter the industry, find investors and become an approved license holder."

From here, Tate said there will be continued engagement with stakeholders to craft the law. Additional extensions of the opt-out might be requested. 

City Council President Brenda Jones echoed Tate's position that the council has to take care in creating its policy. 

"We have to get it right," she said. "This is the opportunity to get it right."

Green Acres resident Peter Rhoades told council members during the hearing that city communities are "ready to talk."

His neighborhood group, he said, is "still waiting for its place at the table to discuss reasonable limits to recreational marijuana."

"We've been waiting a long time," he said during Tuesday's hearing. "We can't do it in two minutes of public comment."

Former state Rep. Mary Waters also addressed the council, saying that she would "have your back in the community" as the legislative body works on its plan to ensure equity.

"We want to be business owners, and we want to make sure that people who have received criminal offenses as a result of (marijuana), we want to make sure that we help to clear their records."

cferretti@detroitnews.com