marijuana
Detroit City Council voted to approve the city’s adult-use marijuana ordinance Tuesday. This means marijuana business owners will soon be able to open up recreational marijuana dispensaries and lounges in the city. (Courtesy of Robert Thomas)

Detroit City Council by an 8-1 vote Tuesday approved an adult-use marijuana ordinance that seeks to ensure residents get a fair chance to participate. 

The long-awaited vote comes after multiple delays with the ordinance including a federal court ruling in June that it was “likely unconstitutional’‘ for giving too much preference to some Detroit residents.

Council President Mary Sheffield, who represents the city’s District 5, and voted in support of the ordinance, noted Detroiters overwhelmingly voted to approve recreational marijuana when it was on the ballot in November 2018. 

Related: Why is Detroit struggling with its recreational pot ordinance?

“I believe that the passage of this ordinance means ownership, it also means the opportunity … to create generational wealth, jobs and revenue for Detroiters, opportunity for our residents to purchase and also consume safe and regulated cannabis products within our city limits,” Sheffield said. 

Detroiters seeking to operate the establishments have pressed the city to sign off on the law and for advantages in securing licensing, but some residents and council members have reiterated worries about an overabundance of marijuana businesses in certain areas and harmful effects they could have on neighborhoods. 

At-large Councilmember Coleman Young II said the legislation can provide “equitable, sustainable justice to those who were disproportionately harmed” by the War on Drugs. 

But he stressed that the law isn’t perfect and it must be amended down the line. 

“I think it’s a good first step, I’m gonna vote for this but by far this cannot be the last time we deal with how this relates to the drug war or I think it’ll be a grave injustice,” Young said. 

Young was among the council members to propose amendments to the draft ordinance prior to Tuesday’s vote. Members debated over social equity provisions for longtime residents, the number of overall licenses for would-be business owners and guarantees and benefits for nearby residents, churches and schools. 

Right now, only 100 licenses would be granted to interested businesses, after an amendment was made to the ordinance during Tuesday’s meeting. Young hopes to eventually add more licenses and change zoning requirements to allow more adult-use businesses to open in the city. 

Council President Pro Tem James Tate, who represents District 1 and spearheaded the legislation, has said the industry could generate $8 million in revenue within four years. 

On Tuesday, he said the City Council should continue to listen to residents, particularly those fearful of an “oversaturation” of the businesses in the city’s District 3 on the east side and southwest Detroit’s District 6, an issue of contention since drafting of the adult-use ordinance began. 

“We can’t just ignore it, walk by like it doesn’t mean anything like their concerns are not important,” Tate said. “These are the same people that we represent on a daily basis.” 

Marcia Spivey, secretary for the Regent Park Community Association, has been outspoken about the lack of specifics she sees in the ordinance and she’s argued it caters to the industry over community members. 

“The City Council is looking to pass the ordinance, but yet they cannot tell residents where all the dispensaries are located, or how many are there in each district,” Spivey said. “That’s unacceptable.”

Kimberly Hill-Knott, a District 3 resident, claimed Tuesday that the City Council didn’t have enough community-based discussions in regard to the ordinance before voting on it. 

“I do not believe that there has been enough attention or engagement of citizens who are not weed smokers, or marijuana establishment owners or have a business interest in that area,” Hill-Knott said. 

Other residents and prospective operators said the law will provide Black Detroiters with an opportunity to get involved in the cannabis business. 

“I just don’t want to see Black folks get shut out of this business and industry now that it’s finally legal,” said resident Michael Cunningham, who spoke Tuesday in favor of the ordinance. 

Najanava Harvey-Quinn, a Detroit resident and part owner of a medical marijuana dispensary that is currently closed, said the dispensary can’t reopen without the additional revenue from recreational marijuana sales. 

“There are tons of social equity people who are just waiting for an opportunity to move forward given an ordinance that allows us to do so,” Harvey-Quinn said. 

Christian Perine is a Detroit resident and the founder of Blew Amsterdam – a company that hopes to open the city’s first adult-use lounge. Perine said she wants her business and others to invest in the city and not just profit off it. 

“I’ve noticed a lot of people who own properties in Detroit and they are rotting,” Perine said. “We personally want to rebuild the houses and the commercial properties.”

At -large Councilwoman Mary Waters was the sole councilmember to oppose the ordinance.

Waters previously sent a letter to fellow council members saying she objected to the law because it didn’t go far enough to ensure “Legacy Detroiters” would benefit.

“This can be a historic moment to level the playing field for Detroiters by creating real opportunities of ownership,” Waters wrote in her letter. “Detroiters have paid the price through structural and systematic racism, hence, why we’re here today.”

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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