Where a muffler shop once stood, Detroit’s first recreational dispensary is selling the loud.
The long-awaited era of legally available recreational marijuana is here. DaCut, formerly a medical-only dispensary that replaced a blighted building at 12668 Gratiot Ave., opened its doors Wednesday to everyone over the age of 21.
The City of Detroit awarded the first batch of 33 licenses to marijuana businesses in December, four years after adult-use sales were legalized in Michigan. DaCut President Al Williams said the delay was difficult for entrepreneurs to endure, but he’s happy to see Detroit finally offering an opportunity for residents to enter the rapidly growing industry.
“It’s huge for the city and it’s huge for the state,” Williams said. “Because of all that the city has been through with the ordinances, to finally see this come to bear and the first door that opens is with an African American from the City of Detroit … It’s exactly what the city is trying to do.
“We’re digging in, we’re investing more in the community and trying to make this as beneficial as possible to the community that surrounds us and the city,” he said.
Cannabis entrepreneurs had to put their plans on hold while Detroit grappled with lawsuits challenging the licensing ordinance, which sets aside half of the 160 available licenses for “equity applicants.” The term applies to Detroiters who live in communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition. A federal judge, who ruled an earlier version of the ordinance was “likely unconstitutional,” denied a request to halt the city’s licensing process in December, paving the way for Detroit to move forward with its revised ordinance.
“We’ve been very patient,” Williams said. “We’ve dotted our ‘i’s,’ crossed our ‘t’s’ and tried to make sure we were always on the up and up, investing in the community and investing in the workforce from the City of Detroit.”
The city awarded 20 equity licenses, including DaCut, and 13 others to businesses that didn’t seek status as an equity applicant.
Detroit City Council Pro Tem James Tate, who introduced the recreational cannabis ordinance, said the recent court ruling was the latest step on a challenging journey. At a press conference last month Tate said the city is fighting to make sure that communities harmed by marijuana’s prohibition have a chance to benefit from its legalization.
“Every step of the way there’s criticism, people who said that you’re doing it wrong,” Tate said. “That you’re trying to make something perfect that can’t be perfect. Why are you fighting? Why is this important? We need to just move on. Today is why we fight,” he said at the time.
Tate also warned that there could be further hurdles ahead. Williams said the ongoing legal challenge to Detroit’s ordinance is a major reason he wanted to get his recreational offerings open at the start of the New Year.
“I know by no means is the so-called battle over,” Tate said last December. “We’ve already been told we’re going to get sued again. We know that’s the nature of this game but just as we fought before, don’t think we’re not going to fight again.”
Williams said DaCut is planning a reopening event on Jan. 16 to advertise its debut into the recreational market. He originally purchased the building in 2018 and opened in 2020 as a franchise of House of Dank, which Williams said he broke off from at the end of 2022.
Businesses offering only medical marijuana, he said, were losing out on major revenue, since the medical market shrunk significantly in the last three years while recreational sales soared.
Williams said calls were already rolling in Wednesday morning asking whether DaCut is serving recreational weed.
Brenda Essmyer, general manager for DaCut, uses cannabis for medical purposes but said many customers are opting not to renew their medical card after adult-use became legal. The rapid drop in price for recreational weed is another factor, she said. That drove more business into the suburbs north of DaCut across Eight Mile, Essmyer said.
“This is going to bring a lot more traffic to the city,” Essmyer said.
As a “budtender,” Essmyer’s expertise on marijuana is valuable for customers who might be taken aback by the large array of colorful products. As she was speaking with BridgeDetroit, a customer asked her opinion on different flavors and dosage amounts.
“Education is the most important thing,” Essmyer said. “People think it’s weed, but how does that weed help you at the end of the day? Does it cure your pain or inflammation? Does that help you sleep? Does it maintain your psychoactive (high)? There’s a lot of key parts to it.”
Williams said more than a third of his 25 employees have previous felony convictions from when marijuana was illegal rather than a $2 billion industry. Expanding cannabis businesses means more job opportunities for formerly incarcerated Detroiters, Williams said, as well as a boon in tax revenue for the city.
“It was important to make sure there were local entrepreneurs that can get into this business, but it was also important that they made sure individuals who were trying to put food on their family’s table and ended up going to jail or were set back because of a felony were also able to benefit,” Williams said.
The first of three rounds of applications ended with licenses being awarded to 33 dispensaries, microbusinesses and consumption lounges at the end of last year. The city plans to give out a total of 160 licenses, including 100 for dispensaries and 30 apiece for microbusiness and consumption lounges.
The second and third phases of the application process each allow for the approval of up to 30 retail licenses, 10 microbusiness licenses and 10 consumption lounge licenses. Applicants who didn’t get a license in the first round can try again when the second round opens, which hasn’t happened yet. The second round can begin 120 days from the end of the first, pending approval by Detroit’s City Council.
Williams, who ran for a state House seat in 2016 and 2020, said his team has the experience needed to open first. DaCut was formerly a franchise location of House of Dank, a statewide cannabis retailer that filed a lawsuit challenging Detroit’s licensing ordinance. Williams said the two entities went separate ways in part to make it easier to obtain a license.
DaCut achieved a perfect score on its application to qualify as an equity business, which includes details of a business plan, site control, tax clearances and community involvement. Equity applicants also need to show they live in a community where more than 20% of the population is below the federal poverty level.
“I want to congratulate all the business owners who toiled for years through this entire process,” Williams said. “It was not easy. If you were able to survive the storm, work with the city and get through all the iterations of ordinances out there – to be open now in the year 2023, it is such a weight off your back. Now, we can get to the business of making money, employing people and making sure people have safe, healthy recreational cannabis to smoke.”