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Detroit's Rocky Opt-In History

Updated: Dec 28, 2022

Everyone knows Detroit needs thousands of properties rehabilitated and more jobs. However, the city leadership is blind to how readily recreational cannabis could significantly contribute to a solution to both of these needs.


  • Two years in a row, 2021 and 2022, Detroit’s ordinance finally allowing adult-use commercial cannabis licenses was enjoined by a court as predictably unlawful.

  • The voters of the City of Detroit will probably not be voting in November 2022 on some form of adult-use commercial cannabis ordinance this November because they did not gather enough signatures.

  • Current zoning restrictions violate anti-competitive antitrust laws by creating 1,000 foot buffers, from lot line to lot line as the bird flies, from liquor stores and micro breweries, and alcohol is a directly competing, entrenched industry.

Medical cannabis provisioning centers in Detroit have been painfully waiting for the right to sell adult-use/recreational cannabis to those 21 or older. The State law legalizing recreational cannabis forbids municipalities from denying equivalent recreational licenses to commercial medical cannabis licensees. However, Detroit’s 2022 enjoined ordinance required existing commercial medical provisioning centers to wait until 2027 to apply, when the capped number of retailer permits would surely prevent their equivalent license permits from ever being granted. Detroit is one of the largest cities in the country in terms of square miles. However, it is almost impossible to find eligible properties, with the several 1,000 foot buffers (liquor stores, microbreweries, other retailers, provisioning centers, consumption establishments, micro businesses, class A micro businesses, arcades, parks, recreation facilities, colleges, universities, religious institutions; whereas it should only be K-12 schools and libraries …). Given this fact, both the 2021 and 2022 botched Detroit Ordinances were empty promises from the beginning and the City knows it. If you cannot find an eligible property you cannot get a permit. The zoning ordinance also prohibits variances. The 1,000 foot buffer from controlled uses to include liquor stores and micro breweries violates the most basic tenet of antitrust law, as it gives an unfair advantage to an entrenched industry over a competing industry. There is no legitimate reason for the 1,000 foot buffer from liquor stores and micro breweries. To appease the ground swell of opposition to this liquor store buffer, the planning commission is currently considering reducing the buffer from 1,000 feet to 750 feet, a meager move which will make very little difference and remains fully anti-competitive. The few properties that are eligible are unavailable as they are occupied by the likes of Chrysler, Ford or GM. A Wayne County circuit court ruling, which we all thought was going to be appealed, was mysteriously not appealed. It held that the zoning enabling act which required municipalities to take public comment gave more public input than the ballot box! The absurdity of this is obvious to anyone who has been cut off after one minute of public comment only to witness the city council ignore every public comment and do whatever they want. How was this ruled as a superior form of public participation than the ballot box? This ruling needs to be challenged; but meanwhile local ballot initiatives avoid including zoning. These zoning ballot initiatives would not rezone properties, they would just indicate which existing zones were eligible and would set more reasonable buffer zones. They would certainly omit liquor stores as buffer zones, because no one would vote for that, except those dead set against cannabis, even though it is safer than alcohol. I went to law school with several law enforcement officers and they agreed that they would rather run into a crowd in a dark alley smoking cannabis than a crowd drinking alcohol. This is a foregone conclusion. Paul Armentano authored a book years ago which discusses how marijuana is Safer than Alcohol: So why are we driving people to drink?” The fact that healthcare costs, alcoholism and violence are all significantly escalated by alcohol is a foregone conclusion. Comparatively, cannabis is medicine, it helps addicts, relieves stress and has an inverse relationship to violence; meaning it makes people less likely to commit acts of violence; it makes people more peaceful and introspective.

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