Recreational marijuana may be legal in Michigan. But roughly 80 percent of municipalities in Michigan, including Detroit, have opted out of the recreational industry and banned legal marijuana sales. Filling that gap, however, are an estimated 150-plus unlicensed cannabis dispensaries in Detroit city limits alone. And Detroit police say its this illicit marijuana industry that’s responsible for an increase in violent crime in 2020.
Meanwhile, medical dispensary owners and applicants for recreational businesses are calling on Detroit City Council to issue recreational licenses to combat the illicit market. But City Council said it plans to uphold its ban on the recreational industry until it can remove barriers to entry for residents who’ve been primarily impacted by marijuana criminalization.
Police Complaints Likely to Extend Ban on Weed Sales
Since the start of the new year, Detroit has seen a total of 17 homicides, up from 10 during the same period last year, and 32 nonfatal shootings, up from 27. Detroit’s Chief of Police says that this increase in violence is weed-related. In a statement to The Detroit News Tuesday, Chief James Craig blamed the city’s illicit marijuana market. “I had a meeting with precinct investigators and Special Response Team members, and they said most of these shootings and homicides came from illegal marijuana sales,” Craig said.
“It’s supply and demand — there’s a higher demand for black market marijuana because it’s cheaper,” Craig added.
Detroit currently has an active ban on recreational marijuana sales that runs through January 31. But next week, City Council will hold a vote on an amendment to extend the ban until March 31.
City Council Wants Detroit Residents to Be Able to Own and Operate Cannabis Businesses
The holdup over allowing recreational sales in Detroit boils down to City Council’s interest in developing real social equity programs to help those most impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement enter the legal industry.
Social equity programs are mandated by the recreational marijuana law voters approved in 2018. They help residents of eligible communities like Detroit qualify for fee and license reductions and waivers, provide application assistance and other legal resources. But putting them into practice has been a challenge, especially as other cannabis companies move quickly into Michigan’s legal industry.
“It’s clear that Detroit’s medical marijuana industry is overwhelmingly owned and operated by individuals who don’t live in the city and take their dollars back to their communities,” said Detroit City Councilman James Tate, who supports extending the ban on legal sales.
“It’s not enough for Detroit residents to simply hold security jobs or floor sweeping in this industry within our city,” Tate added.
Dispensary Owners Take Their Case to Court
Medical marijuana dispensary owners in Detroit, however, are putting pressure on City Council to end the ban on recreational sales before a social equity program can be put in place. Business owners agree with Detroit police that the delay is leading to an increase in marijuana-related crime.
The problem for City Council is that it did not opt out of recreational sales until after a handful of dispensary owners had submitted applications for recreational licenses. Michigan’s marijuana law requires the Marijuana Regulatory Agency to respond to or approve license applications within 90 days.
That means application decisions would technically have to be made prior to the end of the ban if City Council votes to extend it to March 31. As a result, five Detroit-area dispensary owners have sued the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to force LARA to issue their recreational licenses.