Detroit City Councilman James Tate explains why the city banned marijuana sales (for now) 

click to enlarge Detroit City Councilman James Tate. - LARRY GABRIEL
  • Larry Gabriel
  • Detroit City Councilman James Tate.
Detroit City Councilman James Tate is feeling the heat regarding the council's choice to temporarily opt out of adult-use marijuana sales in the city.

Tate is the councilmember who has taken the lead on drafting an ordinance to govern marijuana stores in the city. He says that he has no doubt that it will get passed and that adult-use marijuana sales face no significant opposition on council.

"There's no unreadiness to pass the ordinance to allow it," says Tate. "There is unreadiness to just pass any ordinance without proper deliberation and consideration for what's being proposed."

"This is a marathon, not a sprint," he says.

Tate points out that there has not been enough time for council to respond to state rules that were announced in July. Then, in a surprise move, the Marijuana Regulatory Agency announced that adult-use sales would start on Dec. 1, and not early 2020 as originally planned — leaving Detroit little choice but to postpone sales.

"Any ordinance that we put out, we have to make sure the community who oppose it and those who support it have time to review and chime in," says Tate. "We weren't ready for that."

Detroit's decision is in line with more than 79 percent of Michigan's municipalities which have banned marijuana sales, with many simply kicking the can until other communities roll out recreational marijuana sales so they can see how it goes. But there's another factor for Detroit's temporary ban: Tate says that council is working to make the social equity portion of the law effective, as Detroit is one of the communities that took a big hit during the war on drugs, which has disproportionately impacted people of color.

While the state guidelines give principles of eligibility for its social equity program and make state resources available, there is no financial aid included. In addition, Tate and council members are seeking a way to ease community members into the business. The new industry is a chance for some Detroiters "to gain financially in a way they have not been able to do before," says Tate. "That's the struggle. I'm trying to figure out what that sweet spot is."

On that point, there is no model to follow. Tate is also considering a special designation for legacy Detroiters — people who have lived here for 10 or 15 years.

Then it becomes a question of how many retail outlets should be allowed in Detroit. There's also the issue of finding money to fund startups.

"We are not setting our sights on being the first," says Tate. "We want to make the industry reflect the community."

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