Detroit officials throw out ballot drive to repeal city’s controversial recreational cannabis ordinance

Citizens for Better Social Equity collected 3,867 signatures for the ballot initiative

Jun 1, 2022 at 2:24 pm
click to enlarge Some dispensaries are offering free prerolls and giveaways this holiday season. - Shutterstock
Some dispensaries are offering free prerolls and giveaways this holiday season.

A petition drive aimed at repealing the city of Detroit’s controversial recreational cannabis ordinance was rejected Tuesday.

The city’s Department of Elections upheld an opinion from the city’s law department that concluded the petition missed the deadline to make it on the November ballot.

At issue is the new recreational cannabis ordinance, which the Detroit City Council approved on April 6 with an 8-1 vote.

The ordinance has been the subject of controversy and lawsuits because it seeks to give preference to longtime Detroiters. Many outsiders contend the ordinance is unfair to non-Detroiters, but some in the city argue the ordinance doesn’t go far enough to ensure residents get a shot at participating in the blossoming industry.

Adolph Mongo, a spokesman for the group behind the petition drive, Citizens for Better Social Equity, said the ordinance is heavily flawed. The ordinance, for example, makes it impossible for an existing medical cannabis dispensary to get a recreational license until 2027. The ordinance also caps the total number of licenses for social equity candidates at 50, and petition organization thinks that's not enough.

"The city council has a history in Detroit of getting it wrong," Mongo tells Metro Times. "Anything that could benefit the city, they go through this bullshit all the time."

Petition organizers collected 3,867 signatures to get pthe issue on the ballot.

Detroit City Council Pro Tem James Tate, who introduced the ordinance, applauded the failure of the petition drive, which was just the latest attempt to stop the city from issuing licenses to recreational cannabis businesses.

“At some point, the games must end,” Tate said in a statement. “We will not back down from the fight to best ensure equity and diversity in Detroit’s marijuana industry for our residents. No matter how many lawsuits are filed or any other attempts to freeze out Detroiters in their own city are made, we as lawmakers must remain bold and courageous in our legislation. This is upsetting to some, but Detroiters deserve to truly be able to compete and be successful in this industry – both today and tomorrow.”

House of Dank, which operates four medical marijuana dispensaries in Detroit, filed a lawsuit last month challenging the city’s ordinance, saying it unlawfully prevents medical facilities from getting a recreational license until 2027. The company is asking the Wayne County Circuit Court to strike down the provision, saying it violates the state law governing recreational cannabis.

"The council is saying to the medical marijuana folks, 'Thanks for your service, goodbye and good luck,'" Mongo says. "People put in millions of dollars in this business, and they are going to get screwed. The city council can tweak this. They aren't thinking."

The lawsuit was filed nearly a year after a judge deemed the city’s original recreational cannabis ordinance “likely unconstitutional” because it gave preference to longtime Detroiters.

The city scrapped the ordinance and gave it another go. Under the new ordinance, the city offers two tracks for licenses so that "equity" and "non-equity" applicants aren’t competing with each other. The goal was to avoid another lawsuit by still offering licenses to non-Detrotiers.

It’s still not clear when the city’s first recreational dispensary will open. Even if the city wins the lawsuit, the first dispensary may not open until late this year or early next year under the timeline established by Detroit.

The city began accepting applications for prospective recreational cannabis businesses on April 20, the unofficial annual marijuana holiday.

Doghouse Farms, a brand originally from Oregon, was awarded the city’s first recreational cannabis license to operate a grow facility in Detroit.

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