Guest Writer Adam Gac is the News Director for NPR WUCX 90.1 in Bay City, MI and the Executive Director for the Historic Masonic Temple of Bay City. Adam has been a journalist and cannabis activist since 2012.
Detroit has finally passed an adult use cannabis ordinance, and it includes provisions to help long time Detroiters benefit from the fastest growing industry in America. This new rule requires that half of the 75 Recreational Provisioning Center licenses available will be at least 51% owned by ‘Legacy Detroiters,’ who have lived in the city for at least a decade. The Detroit Legacy Certification applies for current residents of Detroit who have:
Lived in Detroit for 15 of the last 30 years;
Lived in Detroit for 13 of the last 30 years and are low income;
Lived in Detroit for 10 of the last 30 years and have a marihuana conviction.
This rule will benefit legacy Detroiters who want to open marijuana shops, grow operations, or any of the other 10 types of licensed cannabiz activities, and it will provide entrepreneurs and the city with new revenue streams. Additionally, this rule can also work to reduce high rates of recidivism.
Research by Kylie Jiwon Hwang at Columbia University shows that two-thirds of people released from prison are rearrested, and more than 50% are incarcerated again within three years of being released. Programs like the Detroit Legacy can help remedy the discrimination faced by more than 600,000 Americans leaving incarceration each year because such programs have proven to be successful at addressing the significant disparity in unemployment rates between formerly incarcerated individuals and the general public. Hwang’s research indicates that many people facing challenges re-entering the workforce after prison start businesses in service sectors like cleaning, landscaping, and fitness training. Detroit’s Legacy Detroiter rule has the potential to cultivate alternative and creative pathways to success for people who’ve spent time in prison.
Detroit isn’t alone in cultivating alternative and creative pathways for those released from prison. The North Carolina-based nonprofit Inmates to Entrepreneurs has been providing a pathway to business ownership for former felons for decades. The program has resulted in businesses such as mobile detailing, clothing brands, and even a workout program called CONBODY, which is based on one entrepreneur’s incarceration training regimine. Another program, developed by Columbia University, helps the formerly incarcerated to find jobs in the tech sector. Justice Through Code “works to solve the crisis of mass incarceration by offering life-changing access to career-track opportunities in the technology industry to people impacted by the mass incarceration crisis.”
While it’s a start, the rule giving preference to long-term residents in Detroit isn't enough to overcome the inequities caused by mass incarceration and the War on Drugs. Detroit and Mighigan need to work with community partners to help Legacy Detroiters get access to the skills, training, and support they need to be successful in one of the most competitive new industries.
Programs such as Inmates to Entrepreneurs and Justice Through Code could be tailored for the burgeoning cannabis industry, and could help Michiganders previously convicted of cannabis charges start new after their release with a successful marijuana business. It's up to us to make sure that the repeal of prohibition helps some of the people hurt by the War on Drugs.