Why Ann Arbor deserves Michigan’s first recreational marijuana shops

Activist John Sinclair, center, was among the first to buy legal pot on Sunday.
Activist John Sinclair, center, was among the first to buy legal pot on Sunday. Jamie Lowell

Could there be any better way to cap off a Thanksgiving weekend than celebrating the first legal sales of adult-use marijuana? People in Ann Arbor seemed to like it, standing in long lines in the cold and rain on Sunday to buy marijuana on the first day of sales. People even drove up from Ohio, and one Buckeye state couple slept overnight in a tent. Hope it was worth it.

If this is what adult-use availability looks like, then it should be a pretty successful endeavor for businesses. Who doesn't want people lined up to buy your product? And so far, no one has announced that they ran out of weed.

Ann Arbor is once again in the marijuana limelight that it's often occupied in Michigan since the 1960s. People there were the first to call for legalization, created the Hash Bash, were the first to decriminalize, legalized medical use in 2004 (before Michigan did in 2008), and now they're the first to have adult-use marijuana sales.

John Sinclair, the elder statesman of Michigan marijuana legalization, worked on legalization efforts in Ann Arbor before and after his famous 1969 arrest that led to marijuana becoming legal in Michigan for several days in 1972. Sinclair, now a Detroiter, was among the first to buy legal marijuana in Michigan Sunday.

In the 1960s, Sinclair was arrested for a number of marijuana offenses, and he talks about how the cops always wanted to know where he got it. Just in case police want to know where he got his new stuff, it was at Arbors Wellness. Not only that, the folks at Arbors Wellness want everybody to know they're selling marijuana and they hope you'll stop in to buy some. That's way different from how we've been dealing with marijuana. In the old days, everything was secret and on the down low. It's hard to discard the behaviors.

It's a bittersweet turn of events for Sinclair, who in 1969 was sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling two joints. On Sunday, he bought $164 worth of pre-rolled joints.

"Ironic — very ironic the whole thing is," Sinclair says. "I always knew it would come to this. I just thought it would happen a long time ago. We thought it should happen in the '70s, and then it didn't — so what the fuck?"

Back then, Sinclair could've bought a whole pound of marijuana for the $160 he spent for a handful of joints on Sunday. The media was there to document his first legal purchase. It's a complete turnaround from his first illegal purchase. Sinclair can't remember where he got the first stuff he ever bought. It wasn't documented, but it would've been in his native Flint. (Certainly, back in the late 1950s, the last thing you wanted when you were buying weed was to have somebody trying to document it.)

Now there are three adult-use retail stores operating in Ann Arbor, and the Marijuana Regulatory Agency released a list of new licenses late last week that included a fourth, Green Peak Innovations/Skymint. Clearly Ann Arbor is the marijuana center of Michigan. No other city has that number of retail outlets available. Detroit has none, although its population is five or six times that of Ann Arbor.

Here in Detroit, the hoopla has been postponed by City Council. In a city that once had near 200 medical marijuana provisioning centers, there are no retail outlets due to a temporary ban. Most Detroiters will probably not be heading to Ann Arbor, as Sinclair did, to buy their first legal weed. Many will continue to buy their illegal weed on the black market because that's what's here.

But everyone is thinking about Ann Arbor and the changes to come across the state. I was at a meeting that had nothing to do with marijuana on Sunday morning when someone announced that adult-use marijuana had been on sale for 10 minutes in Ann Arbor. Then that person informed us that they have plenty of outdoor organically grown stuff — negating any urgent need to buy any.

The point is that there's a lot of pot out there, and Detroiters mostly will not worry much about their adult-use weed, as long as it gets here relatively soon. There is no panic in Detroit among users. Although some folks are perturbed that they can't access stores and the variety of products available, they can still access marijuana. This is more of an issue for business owners who have been hanging on, trying to make it to the finish line of adult-use sales, when the market and, hopefully, profits multiply. From what I hear, most provisioning centers are just scraping by financially. Some of them have changed ownership.

Detroit's turn will come in time. Right now, Ann Arbor is the beacon to lead us into the adult-use economy. As screwy as the situation in Detroit is, you've got to admit that Ann Arbor deserves to lead on this day. The city is our Cannabis Central. And Sinclair, who made the pilgrimage from Detroit to Ann Arbor to make that first purchase, is connecting both the past and future of marijuana in this state.

My first buy

Unlike Sinclair, I remember where and when I bought my first illegal marijuana. It was in a second-floor flat near Livernois and Davison, purchased from the older brother of a friend. A bunch of guys from my school had pitched in to buy an ounce, and I had the contact. We have stores now — although at 17, I would've been too young to buy anything at them.

My first medical marijuana buy was at the Grass Station on East Grand Boulevard, a place that has since closed. I'm in no hurry to make an adult-use purchase. I grew some this summer, so I'm good. I'm also covered for the medicinal extracts I use because I have a medical card. I'm sure I'll get around to it sooner or later.

Don't Bogart

There have been plenty of articles out there about the do's and don'ts of cannabis etiquette these past few weeks. Among all that advice, none has mentioned Bogarting joints. It's a big enough issue that it was once put into song by Fraternity of Man.

The phrase derives from film actor Humphrey Bogart's practice of lighting a cigarette then holding it and talking while the smoke drifted away into the air. That may be OK for cigarettes, but a big waste of marijuana if you're just going to let the smoke drift away. No one wants to listen to you pontificate while they're waiting for a joint and you're wasting smoke. When the joint comes to you, take a puff, and as the song says, "pass it over to me." I haven't heard any references to Bogarting in a long time. Do people even care about that anymore?

It's a new era for marijuana in Michigan. Sign up for our weekly weed newsletter, delivered every Tuesday at 4:20 p.m.

About The Author

Larry Gabriel

Larry Gabriel covers cannabis for Metro Times. He also writes the Detroit Watch in the monthly Michigan Cannabis Industries Report. Larry's chapter "Rebirth of Tribe" in the book Heaven Was Detroit, from jazz to hip-hop and beyond chronicles the involvement of Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison, Harold McKinney,...
Scroll to read more Marijuana News articles
Join the Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.