marijuana
The city in August will begin the first of three phases for adult-use marijuana licensing. (Photo by Robert Thomas)

The city next month will be taking applications for a limited number of recreational marijuana licenses for Detroiters seeking to open adult-use retail dispensaries, microbusinesses and consumption lounges. 

According to a resolution unanimously approved Tuesday by Detroit’s City Council, “an appropriate” number of license-seekers are prepared to sign up in the first of three application phases for a capped number of licenses. The Detroit Department of Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity will be accepting the first round of applications from Aug. 1 through Aug. 31 and providing coaching, technical assistance and other help for entrepreneurs looking to break into Detroit’s growing marijuana market. A portion of the available licenses are being set aside for longtime residents.

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“We’ve finally reached this moment where we will be opening up limited licenses for adult-use recreational cannabis,” Council President Pro-Tem James Tate said Tuesday. “For those who don’t have your stuff ready today, it’s time to get ready, because this is legit. We’re here and it’s that time.”

Tate, who represents Detroit’s District 1, took the lead on drafting the city’s adult-use ordinance. He also supported carving out a number of licenses exclusively for long-time residents, arguing that Detroiters impacted by the War on Drugs should have opportunities to build generational wealth from the same plant that led to mass incarcerations.

August is the first in three waves of the city’s plan to accept applications for limited adult-use marijuana licenses, each to be separated by 120 days. Additional 30-day application periods will be recommended by CRIO and approved by the City Council in the future. 

Council members voted in April to amend Detroit’s regulations on adult-use marijuana establishments, allowing for a capped number of certain types of facilities. The ordinance sets aside some licenses for “equity applicants,” defined as longtime Detroiters or people who live in a community where marijuana-related convictions are greater than the state average and where 20% or more of the population is living below the federal poverty level.

The ordinance states 75 licenses are available for medical marijuana dispensaries; 50 licenses for adult-use retailers and 50 licenses for retailers who are equity applicants; 15 for consumption lounges and 15 more lounge licenses for equity applicants; and 15 for microbusinesses and 15 licenses for microbusiness equity applicants. 

CRIO on April 20 also began accepting license applications for marijuana growers, processors, secure transporters, safety compliance and event organizers. There’s no limit on the number of licenses that can be approved for these categories.

The marijuana license application is extensive and requires the disclosure of personal information, a criminal background check, business plan, proof that the proposed location is cleared for marijuana facility use, and other information. Adult-use applicants must also commit to a community outreach plan and measures to benefit the city, including hiring employees who are Detroit residents and donating a portion of their annual revenue to a Detroit-based charity or a city social equity fund.

Application instructions can be found online at detroitmeansbusiness.org/homegrown. No applicant can apply for more than one license of the same type.

Michigan’s marijuana market has exploded in recent years, with sales growing in both recreational and medical pot. Medical marijuana facilities posted $23 million in sales for the month of May, while recreational establishments recorded $163 million in sales. Michigan’s legal cannabis market reached nearly $1 billion in sales last year. 

Detroit’s City Council voted in 2020 to allow adult-use recreational sales to start in 2021. Since then, legal challenges have sought to strike down advantages given to long-term Detroit applicants. 

Last year, a federal judge said the city’s “legacy Detroiter” provision was “likely unconstitutional” for giving too much preference to some Detroit residents. A lawsuit challenging the ordinance was filed in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan and a trial date was set for September. 

In response, Tate introduced a revised ordinance creating a separate track for licensing that doesn’t pit equity applicants against non-equity applicants. It was approved by the City Council in April by an 8-1 vote, with at-large Council Member Mary Waters recording the sole “no” vote.

A failed referendum petition also sought to halt medical and adult-use marijuana licensing within Detroit until November, allowing voters to decide whether to support a total repeal of the city’s ordinance. However, the Detroit Department of Elections and Law Department determined the referendum petition was not filed by the required deadline to be considered for the November ballot.

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