In the Weeds: Detroit City Council Approves Recreational Marijuana Sales, Community Responds

The Detroit City Council on Nov. 25 voted yes for an ordinance that will now permit recreational marijuana sales made by adults. Social equity components tied to the ordinance will also yield favorable results for Detroit residents interested in entering this high-profit industry. The Council approved the motion 9-0.


Councilman James Tate led the charge on this legislation that champions a social equity program (SEP) which guarantees that no less than 50% of all license types will be awarded to Detroit Legacy applicants, according to the city website.


To be considered a “Legacy Detroiter” applicants must have lived in the city for 15 of the last 30 years including the past year; have lived in the city for 13 of the last 30 years including the last year and qualify as low-income or have lived in the city for 10 of the last 30 years including the past year and have a marijuana conviction. The ordinance will be featured as an amendment to the Detroit City Code.


Tate said during the meeting that this ordinance has been in discussion for the last two years.


“We have a provision where we worked on the social equity portion of the ordinance that focused on ensuring that Detroiters have not just an opportunity into the industry but really identifying ways to make sure that they are a success for those legacy Detroiters,” Tate said, adding that he’s seen around the country where people who live in a city benefiting from a marijuana industry are “frozen out” and are unable to participate for various reasons, including financial ones.


According to the city, passing this ordinance grants licensing for these state-approved categories:

  • Adult-use retailer establishment
  • Grower
  • Processor
  • Safety compliance facility
  • Temporary marijuana event
  • Microbusiness
  • Designated consumption lounge
  • Secure transporter


Tate added that while the city has not been able to “wave a magic wand” to remove financial burdens for entrepreneurs looking to enter the industry, huge strides have been made including mirroring the state of Michigan by reducing application fees.


“Based upon you living in [a] disproportionately impacted community like Detroit you can receive up to a 75 percent discount for your licensing application here,” Tate said, adding that he listened to colleagues and others in the industry to make this local industry more equitable. “I think the most important [thing is] making sure we have space provided for those previously incarcerated for marijuana-related convictions … lastly [we] included elements for community engagement that also helped strengthen this ordinance … [so the] community [has more understanding] on what is coming to their neighborhoods.”


City Council President Brenda Jones thanked Tate for his hard work and said that ensuring equity has been a high priority and “very important” to her.


Detroit resident Mitzi Ruddock attended the virtual meeting and spoke during the public comment section in favor of the vote.


Ruddock, who has a past marijuana conviction, is also the founder of Detroit-based Black Cannabis Access [BCA] which provides a pathway for those disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. Ruddock told the council that “cannabis has saved my life” from a mental health and economical perspective. In a follow-up interview with the Chronicle, she said giving Black people a pathway into this industry and breaking down the process of marijuana licensing into “bite-size pieces” is what BCA is all about.


“We [the Black community] have a lot of challenges and barriers that are preventing us from being in this industry from the ownership [side] of things Black Cannabis Access is committed to ensuring we participate greater especially in communities where we are the majority,” Ruddock said. “We must have these businesses that look like us.


“[It is] imperative we get our shot at this billion-dollar industry; no other industry is going to provide us with these opportunities that the cannabis industry will.”


Ruddock, who has been in this industry since 1997, said that as a community educator she is doing the work that is necessary to fill in the gaps when others won’t.


“[There are] so many gaps of us getting [into this] industry — it is unbelievable how [the industry is] not taking care of Black and Brown people,” she said.


Perfecting Church Pastor Marvin Winans spoke against the usage of marijuana during the meeting.


“The Bible says that if you sow to the wind you shall reap the whirlwind,” Winans said. “And I think I’m ashamed of Councilman Tate because we had these discussions and all I can say is that I will be here when the smoke settles and the dust clears. And I pray that we have a better idea to bring the city back than weed.”


Former Fox 2 Detroit Anchor Anqunette “Q” Sarfoh co-founder of BotaniQ, the provisioning center, and dispensary in Detroit [resold and renamed] sees it a bit differently. She is an advocate for the safe use of marijuana for health reasons after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2013.

“This is an opportunity to build generational wealth and successful businesses run by people who live in and care about the community,” she said adding that as a recreational user, it gives people the opportunity to explore different options to relax, unwind and address medical issues.


While not a legacy Detroiter she is an advocate.


“I’m always glad to see communities opt-in and draft legislation to make sure the industry works for both the residents and the business owners,” Sarfoh said.


Former Detroit Lion Rob Sims, the co-founder of the Michigan-based cannabis company Primitive Group, said during the meeting that he supports the ordinance and feels Detroit is trying to “do the right thing” from the social equity perspective.

“I am for this ordinance for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “I’m looking forward to touching more people in the city of Detroit with our medicine.”


Detroit-based and Black-owned dispensary Motor City Kush representatives are looking forward to the recreational component being added to their establishment, which opened in 2018.


Manager Jennifer Demers said that the new recreational component will bring new business to all dispensaries.


“More customers, new customers,” Demers said, adding that the recreational market will bring more people who maybe haven’t tapped into this market and they are interested. “And they have questions and they have ailments that need to be treated.”

Demers added that maybe some people can’t afford the upfront state fee of a medical card so they will opt for a recreational card.


“They don’t have to renew their card every couple of years,” she said adding that the impact won’t be noticeable for the next couple of months. “It’s not just a simple flip of the switch [there will be] lots of training … [it’s] a learning curve but an exciting venture into the next step. I know that our owner is very proud to be a Black-owned dispensary in the city of Detroit.”


Councilman James Tate was joined in late October with Mayor Mike Duggan and members of the community as Tate announced his proposed amendment to the Detroit City Code to allow adult-use recreational marijuana licensing in Detroit.


The ordinance also states that at least $1 million generated yearly from licensing sales can go toward various adult-use social equity initiatives, the release added, and a portion of adult-use sales taxes will also fund substance use prevention programming for youth, according to the city’s marijuana ordinance.


The ordinance allows for the allocation of 75 total licenses for retail establishments, commonly known as dispensaries. There are 45 medical marijuana facilities in Detroit; they are eligible to receive a license, but “not less than 50% of licenses are to be awarded to [legacy] Detroiters”, as outlined in the ordinance.


Tate told the Chronicle that with at least 80 percent of the city being African American, he recognizes that the industry has not been “welcoming” to people of color. Statistics don’t lie either locally– only four percent of the 45 marijuana-based retail establishments are owned by Detroiters in the city of Detroit.

“[That] gives you understanding of how dire the situation is if there is no government intervention,” Tate said, adding that it is important to educate and help residents obtain access to capital and real estate.

Tate added that regarding negative comments about the proposal, there are a number of Detroiters who live in the city of Detroit looking forward to the opportunity to enter into the industry and have comfort of knowing this brand new industry “will work on behalf of Detroiters and work for the city of Detroit.”

For more information about the adult-use marijuana ordinance or the social equity program component, reach out to or go to


Lindsay Keener contributed to this report.



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