The cannabis industry is watching and waiting as a lawsuit challenging Detroit’s rigorous equity program for recreational marijuana creeps closer to a ruling.
Under the city’s regulations, longtime residents and those with marijuana-related convictions or low incomes get first priority in the license review process for opening a cannabis business. Applications began April 1, but a week later a legal challenge halted that process, leaving the adult-use cannabis business in Detroit frozen in limbo.
A March 2 lawsuit by resident Crystal Lowe argues that the preference rules, dubbed the Legacy Detroiter program, are unconstitutional and “unfairly favor” a specific group of residents, discriminating against nonresidents and those who live in the city but don’t fit the checklist.
While no official ruling has been made, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said Thursday he agrees.
Friedman wrote in a new order that he was issuing a preliminary injunction “because the city ordinance governing the process for obtaining a recreational marijuana retail license gives an unfair, irrational, and likely unconstitutional advantage to long-term Detroit residents over all other applicants.”
In practical terms, it means the city remains blocked from processing licenses in recreational cannabis. The process first got put on hold April 7 with a temporary restraining order. The new action Thursday shows the case is advancing, and that there’s more likelihood the plaintiff will succeed at trial.
Friedman wrote that the ordinance’s “favoritism … embodies precisely the sort of economic protectionism that the Supreme Court has long prohibited.” He added that the “defendant has failed to show that its stated goal of assisting those who have been harmed by the War on Drugs is advanced by reserving fifty percent or more of the recreational marijuana licenses for those who have lived in Detroit for at least ten years.”
Despite its large medical cannabis industry, Detroit originally opted out of recreational pot when it got greenlit by Michigan voters in 2018.
Detroit City Councilman James Tate spearheaded creation of an ordinance over the course of more than a year that would establish the recreational, or adult-use, industry and aim to bring more Black Detroiters and longtime residents into the fold. The idea was to get those hurt by the war on drugs involved now that cannabis is legal, and to regulate the way to more diversity in the largely white sector.
The effort comes after medical cannabis hasn’t garnered local participation: There were 46 operational medical dispensaries in Detroit as of October, but a mere four were owned and operated by Detroit residents.
Now, though, there are questions over how Detroit is tackling that problem: Does the Legacy Detroiter program work? Who does it harm, if anyone, and — at the center — is it even legal?