Black-owned cannabis dispensaries at risk of closing because of Detroit’s new recreational marijuana ordinance

A marijuana ordinance intended to help longtime Detroiters is having unintended consequences

Jun 28, 2022 at 1:24 pm
click to enlarge The House of Mary Jane in Detroit. - Lee DeVito
Lee DeVito
The House of Mary Jane in Detroit.

Detroit’s new recreational marijuana ordinance, designed to help long-time residents get into the nascent industry, is driving Black-owned medical cannabis dispensaries out of business.

Of the roughly 70 medical cannabis dispensaries that were open in Detroit at the beginning of this year, about 10 were Black-owned. Two of those recently went out of business.

Shana Williams, owner of House of Mary Jane on the city’s west side, fears her dispensary is the next to shut its doors.

“I feel like they are pushing us out,” Williams tells Metro Times. “They know we poured our money into this. It’s not like we’re a big corporation. We are a mom and pop store."

At issue is Detroit’s new ordinance that prohibits medical dispensaries from getting a recreational license until at least 2027. The idea was to allow newcomers into the market.

Medical cannabis dispensaries have filed two lawsuits against the city, saying the ordinance violates state law.

The problem is that medical cannabis dispensaries can’t compete with their recreational counterparts. Fewer people are getting medical cards because they cost money and require a doctor’s visit.

The number of active medical cards fell from more than 264,000 in 2020 to about 225,100 so far this year, a 15% decline, according to the state’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA).

As a result, recreational marijuana dispensaries have far more customers and products, causing sales to plummet on the medical side. Medical cannabis sales fell from $38.1 million in February 2021 to $23.3 million in February 2022, a 38.8% drop.

“It’s unrealistic to compete with rec,” Williams says. “A lot of people don’t even grow medical flower anymore because they don’t sell. They sit in a warehouse. So why would they produce medical products if we can’t sell it fast enough?”

Williams says she has met with city officials to discuss the problems, but they refuse to make any changes.

Of the House of Mary James’ initial 20,000 customers, only about 5,000 still have a medical card, Williams says.

Williams already cut down on advertising and is worried she can no longer afford to appear on Weedmaps, the most popular resource for customers to find cannabis dispensaries.

“Once I stop paying for Weedmaps, I might as well close,” Williams says.

The city council approved the new ordinance on April 5. City officials are now declining to discuss the ordinance because of the lawsuits.

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