Opponents of Detroit’s new recreational marijuana ordinance aim for ballot initiative in November

The Detroit Election Commission will decide if the new initiative has enough valid signatures

Aug 8, 2022 at 3:09 pm
click to enlarge Detroit still does not have a recreational marijuana dispensary. - Shutterstock
Detroit still does not have a recreational marijuana dispensary.

A ballot initiative that would replace the city of Detroit’s much-maligned recreational marijuana ordinance is headed to the Detroit Election Commission.

A group called Citizens for Better Social Equity collected 4,844 signatures to get the initiative on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The Detroit City Council had the option of enacting the initiative or sending it to the Detroit Election Commission, which will determine whether there are enough valid signatures to place the issue on the ballot. Last week, the council, which opposes the initiative, decided to send it to the commission.

Supporters of the initiative seemingly face long odds because the city’s Law Department said the group lacks enough valid signatures. Under the Detroit City Charter, 2,811 signatures are needed, and the Wayne County Clerk’s Office validated 3,087 of them.

But the city’s Law Department insists the initiative needs at least 6,475 signatures under the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act.

“Therefore, the petition signature requirements in the charter are inapplicable and the MRTMA clause controls,” the Law Department said in an opinion issued to Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey's office. “MRTMA requires more signatures than the petitioner obtained, and the city has historically required. Accordingly, the petition does not meet the state mandated signature requirement, and therefore, the initiative cannot be placed on the ballot for the November 2022 General Election.”

The city’s Department of Elections upheld the Law Department’s opinion and rejected the petitions.

On April 5, the Detroit City Council approved the new recreational marijuana ordinance, which has been the subject of controversy and lawsuits because it seeks to give preference to longtime Detroiters. Outsiders contend the ordinance is unfair to non-Detroiters.

The city ordinance calls for awarding licenses for up to 100 dispensaries, 30 micro businesses, and 30 consumption lounges. Half of the licenses would go to social equity applicants, who must live in a city that was disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

On top of calling for unlimited recreational facilities, the initiative would allow medical cannabis dispensaries to get a recreational license.

The current ordinance bars medical cannabis dispensaries from obtaining a recreational license until 2027. That provision resulted in at least two lawsuits against the city.

The lawsuits allege Detroit’s ordinance violates state law. The city is also accused of breaking state law by using an unfair scoring system for choosing which companies receive a license, rather than providing a competitive application process. The scoring system, for example, gives preference to companies that hire Detroiters and donate to Detroit nonprofits.

The lawsuits were filed by dispensaries House of Dank and JARS Cannabis.

In the lawsuit filed by House of Dank, a Wayne County Circuit Court judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the city from issuing licenses for dispensaries, micro-businesses, and consumption lounges.

In a statement, President Pro Tem James Tate defended the city’s ordinance.

“I’ve known from the onset there would be roadblocks and challenges, but I will remain steadfast in my efforts to bring Detroit a fair and balanced adult-use recreational marijuana ordinance,” said Tate, who sponsored the recreational marijuana ordinance.

He added, “It is vital that we continue to overcome all adversities that will hinder access in this industry, the City of Detroit remains devoted to bringing forth major opportunities that many committed residents across our city have been working and waiting to obtain. It does not go without notice that each attempt to slow down or halt the current ordinance continues to be ill-sufficient.”

It’s still not clear when the city’s first recreational dispensary will open. Even if the city wins the lawsuit, the first dispensary likely won’t open until next year under the timeline established by the new ordinance.

The city is late to entering the legal recreational marijuana market, and that could be a major problem for new businesses. The statewide market is now flooded with marijuana products, growers, and dispensaries, causing prices to hit all-time lows and forcing some businesses to sell cannabis at a loss.

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.

You can read the entire proposed new ordinance on the City of Detroit website.

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