Detroit City Council postpones vote on revised recreational marijuana ordinance

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit City Council determined Tuesday that they could not move forward with a vote on the second try at a marijuana ordinance to authorize recreational-use dispensaries in the city after the first one was tied up in federal court.

Following an hour in private session to discuss pending litigation before the city of Detroit, the council returned Tuesday afternoon for another two-hour discussion. The council determined an additional public hearing outlining changes is needed before an action could be taken.

The public hearing will be held during the council's April 5 formal session.

Detroit City Council Pro Tempore James Tate, Council President Mary Sheffield and At-Large Councilman Coleman A. Young deliberate the marijuana ordinance on Tuesday.

"Unless there are any additional amendments, this would cap it and we can move forward with licensing. We are now seeing light at the end of the tunnel," Mayor Pro Tem James Tate said, insisting this wasn't a hold-up in the process.

The new law, proposed by Tate in February, was created with the same language as the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency's social equity program, which opens benefits to all residents from disproportionately impacted communities, rather than just Detroiters. 

There are 184 communities, including Detroit, identified by the agency 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 new ordinance.

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He and Mayor Mike Duggan's administration have worked together over the last two years seeking equitable opportunity for longtime Detroiters to participate in an industry that's estimated to yield $3 billion in annual state sales.

That mission was slowed after a federal judge ruled last summer that their first ordinance approved in 2020 as "likely unconstitutional" for providing too much preference to "Legacy Detroiters.".

During the Tuesday discussion, at-large Councilman Coleman A. Young proposed several amendments including increasing budget funding from $500,000 to $1 million for social equity; not limiting businesses to just one license; expanding the status of equity applicant to any person who has a prior marijuana felony, misdemeanor, or who was a licensed caregiver growing medicinal marijuana prior to 2017; and allowing for "stacking" of licenses under one facility. "Stacking" means that multiple grow and cultivation licenses would be permitted under one commercial license so businesses are not limited to in the number of plants they can grow.

City attorneys explained that there are not enough licenses for owners to own more than one.

Young responded by calling to increase the number of retailer licenses from 76 to 110; increasing the number of consumption lounges from 15 to 25; and increasing the number of micro businesses from 15 to 25. However, that motion failed 8-1.

"We have to be able to expand this process in a way in which as many people as possible can be able to participate. Now with the Detroit Legacy application, we had 400 people who were rejected and most of those because they didn't have the right paperwork," Young said. "You better believe most of those people are going to apply for Detroit equity or adult-use... We're talking about people who have been systematically, fundamentally, purposely targeted and ravaged by the drug war."

Young's fellow councilmembers disagreed with all the proposed changes aside from being able to stack licenses.

Tate said, "Around the country, cities have these huge numbers that are larger than what I'm proposing and they end up an issue. You can't unscramble the egg, so we are in a situation where, I believe, that being more prudent going into this situation is a direction we should take."

At-large Councilwoman Mary Waters said she was concerned about the expansion because, "There's no guarantee that those we seek to help will receive these licenses... Once we open up the floodgates, those who can, will take it all."

Of nearly 30 public commenters that appeared before the City Council on Tuesday, half spoke on the marijuana ordinance.

Kimberly Scott, founder of the Detroit medical marijuana provisioning center Chronic City, has been an industry advocate for more than a decade and helped create the Legacy Detroiter program with the city.

"Currently in Detroit we have 10 Black-owned, legally state-licensed provisional operators within the city ready to go recreational," she said, adding that Black owners of cannabis companies only make up 2% of companies nationwide, according to Leafly. "Detroit has an opportunity to change this and become the standard model globally for its social equity program for other cities to model after and help Black's in this industry."

Maurice Morton, owner of Motor City Kush in District 3 and a cultivation center in District 2, said delaying the vote would be detrimental to all the operators in the city.

"We've waited a long time. We think that it's been since beyond 2018 and we understand that we have to get it right and definitely appreciate all the work of Councilman Tate... But let's remember that there are business owners that are subject to closure the longer that this is delayed," Morton said. 

Maurice Morton, owner of Motor City Kush in District 3 and a cultivation center in District 2, said delaying the vote would be detrimental to all the operators in the city.

The majority of commenters, 11, were against the amended ordinance saying it did not provide enough of an advantage to boost residents, which was originally promised by Tate and Duggan in October. 

Brian Yono, with Hyde Cannabis on Eight Mile and Van Dyke, asked the council to delay the vote.

"We would like to go to a public health committee to voice our concerns and help come up with some solutions to create more opportunities for social equity," he said. "We want to work together but the main thing is the zoning ordinance needs to be changed and also the amount of licenses."

The new proposal creates separate tracks to achieve recreational marijuana licensing for Detroit social-equity applicants as well as all others to not "pit equity applicants against potentially heavily resourced non-equity applicants," Tate said.

It encourages joint ventures or partnerships between applicants to reap the same benefits.

► For subscribers: City Council member has a new plan, but will it finally usher recreational marijuana into Detroit?

Twitter: @SarahRahal_