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Detroit’s Recreational Marijuana Provision Challenged in Court

— March 9, 2021

Detroit Legacy sparks a lawsuit alleging city resident’s are being favored.

Detroit’s new provision for recreational use of marijuana, which offers preference for longtime residents when regulating licensing, is now the city is facing a lawsuit alleging unfair favoritism.   Detroit’s City Council unanimously approved the ordinance in late fall, which gives preference to residents, under a certification called “Detroit Legacy.”

Applicants qualify if they’ve “lived in Detroit for 15 of the last 30 years; 13 of the last 30 years and are low-income; or 10 of the last 30 years and have a past marijuana-related criminal conviction; or have parents who have a prior controlled substance record and still live in the city,” according to the new provision.  City officials have said only a small portion of Detroit’s 46 legal medical marijuana dispensaries are owned by city residents.

Detroit's Recreational Marijuana Provision Challenged in Court
Photo by Drew Taylor on Unsplash

In the lawsuit filed this month in Wayne County Circuit Court, Crystal Lowe, who has lived in Detroit for 11 years, indicates she plans to apply for an adult-use retail establishment license.  However, the city “has almost certainly denied Lowe’s chances to obtain a license because the city’s licensing scheme favors certain Detroit residents over other Michiganders based on the duration of their residency” there,” according to her filing.  “The city ordinance,” she states, “violates a commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution because it discriminates against out-of-state residents and punishes people for moving between states.”

“Because Defendant has decided to cap the number of licenses available for adult-use retail establishments, it has set up a competitive licensing scheme unlike any other in the state,” Lowe’s attorney, Kevin Blair, explained. “The ordinance allows a maximum of 75 licenses and no less than 50% have to be granted to Detroit legacy applicants, without a cap on those awarded to that group.”

Detroit Legacy “further provides that City shall not issue a license for an adult-use legal establishment if such issuance would cause the number of licenses held by Detroit legacy licensees to be less than 50% of the total licenses for this category,” according to the suit. “Thus, Detroit legacy applicants can compete for 75 licenses, whereas applicants without Detroit legacy status can only compete for a potential maximum of 37 licenses, a number that will shrink depending on how many Detroit legacy applicants succeed in obtaining licenses.”

Detroit Deputy Mayor Conrad Mallett responded, “The ordinance was crafted to make sure longtime Detroit residents benefit significantly from this new industry and can build generational wealth.  The ordinance states that if any part of the Legacy Detroiter provision is struck down, no recreational marijuana licenses will be issued in Detroit.  That’s how strongly we feel about making sure Detroiters are the ones benefitting from this new industry.  If they don’t have a share of this industry, then it’s not an industry we want in our city.”

Qualifying residents get a 99% discount on licensing fees on 2021 and a 75% discount in 2022. They also receive a 75% discount on city-owned vacant property.

“These are taxpayer dollars supporting this program and should go to those currently in the city of Detroit. That’s just how the cookie crumbles,” said Mitzi Ruddock Ruddock, who runs Black Cannabis Access and helped to develop the provision (even though she doesn’t live in the city).


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