Detroit’s Election Commission will review whether a proposal seeking to overturn Detroit’s adult-use marijuana licensing ordinance can go on the Nov. 8 ballot. (Photo by Robert Thomas)

A proposed initiative for the Nov. 8 ballot seeking to overturn Detroit’s adult-use marijuana licensing ordinance is headed to the city’s Election Commission for review.

The City Council voted Monday during a special session to send the proposed measure to the Detroit Election Commission. Under Detroit’s 2012 City Charter, the city has 60 days to either enact the proposal as a new ordinance or have the Detroit Election Commission “determine whether the proposed language can lawfully be placed on the ballot,” Detroit City Council President Pro Tem James Tate noted in a Tuesday news release.

The move comes after Detroit’s Department of Elections first declined on July 1 to certify the proposed initiative from Citizens For Better Social Equity due to insufficient signatures. Last week, Detroit’s elections office updated its decision after concluding that the petitioner had provided enough valid supplemental signatures.

But a July 25 opinion from the Law Department, drafted at the request of Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, “suggests the proposed ballot initiative is still unlikely to make it to the November ballot,” Tate’s statement adds. 

Detroit’s City Charter states that 2,811 valid signatures are needed to secure a place on the general election ballot. And out of the 4,844 signatures that Citizens For Better Social Equity provided, 3,087 were deemed valid. 

However, the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (MRTMA) has requirements of its own for certain municipal petitions that override the City Charter – and according to Detroit’s Law Department, this petition falls into that category and therefore signatures gathered to get it on the November ballot fall short. 

MRTMA requires 9,576 valid signatures for an initiative to qualify for the ballot, “more signatures than the petitioner obtained, and the city has historically required,” the Law Department noted.

“Accordingly, the petition does not meet the State mandated signature requirement, and therefore, the initiative cannot be placed on the ballot,” the Law Department opinion from Detroit Corporation Counsel Conrad Mallett Jr. reads.

Tate, in his statement, said that the council’s Monday vote was made in an attempt to protect the city’s current adult-use 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 law. “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.”

Adolph Mongo, a spokesman for the group behind the ballot proposal, said the council has “dropped the ball” on its marijuana licensing regulations and he rejected the Law Department’s conclusion. 

“They are just trying to find a way to not put this on the ballot,” he told BridgeDetroit. 

Mongo added that those behind the petition initiative oppose the city’s licensing cap for adult-use facilities and believe that medical marijuana businesses in Detroit should have an opportunity to be grandfathered in, which, Mongo said, the council won’t do.

“That’s what I’m asking. That’s the bottom line,” he said. “They (the council) refuse to do that.”

Detroit had planned to begin accepting its first round of applications for a limited number of adult-use marijuana licenses on Monday, with a portion to be set aside for long-standing residents. 

But Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Leslie Kim Smith late last week granted a temporary restraining order preventing the city from taking applications for the limited licenses. The city is set to give oral arguments before Smith on Aug. 12.

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 longtime 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.

Council members voted in April to amend regulations for adult-use marijuana establishments, allowing for a capped number of certain types of facilities in the city. 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.

Mongo argues Detroiters are leaving the city to start up business elsewhere. Detroit, he said, could have been at the forefront of profiting from marijuana sales, but now “it’s behind the eight ball,” he said. 

The city’s prior council voted in 2020 to allow adult-use recreational sales to begin in 2021. Since then, legal challenges have sought to strike down advantages given Detroiters. 

Last year, a federal judge said the city’s “legacy Detroiter” provision was “likely unconstitutional” for giving too much preference to some 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 council in April.

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