Detroit corporation counsel Melvin Butch Hollowell recently announced the closing of 169 dispensaries in Detroit. According to the Detroit Free Press, the goal of city officials is to have only 50 licensed dispensaries within city limits, to be enforced based on the current ordinance where a dispensary must be at least 1,000 ft from a park, church, school, liquor store or drug-free zone. The city’s web page on medical marijuana indicates there are over 150 currently operating dispensaries. Currently 1% of operating dispensaries are Black-owned and only a few of those are Detroit residents. Our city is intentionally limiting the amount of tax revenue it can collect and the amount of money circulating within it. 

Forbes predicts that by 2021 sales within the cannabis industry will reach $30 billion in the 20 US jurisdictions where marijuana is legal. By 2020 the industry will create more jobs than manufacturing, utilities, and the government. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is currently circulating a petition to place on the 2018 ballot the legalization of cannabis in the state of Michigan. That would make Michigan the first and only state in the Midwest to have full legalization of cannabis. Hemp, a non-euphoric strain of cannabis, would also become legal, further increasing Detroit’s manufacturing sector. 

Detroit Start-up week had two panel discussions about the cannabis industry. Investors who attended the event said they’re waiting for this emerging industry to take full bloom in Detroit. However, if we’re not careful we’ll be like Denver where those of color aren’t benefiting from the very industry that criminalizes them. The ACLU reported in “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” Black Americans are 3.73 times more likely than Whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. For an 85% Black city, this remains a troubling issue even though Detroiters overwhelmingly voted for the decriminalization of marijuana in Detroit. 

By learning from the missteps of cities and having the foresight to create solutions before problems arise, we can shape and control how the cannabis industry operates in Detroit while ensuring we generate tax revenue that could be used to strengthen neighborhoods, invest in schools and small businesses, and reactivate our recreation centers. In 2015, Denver generated $29 million in tax revenue, which is only a taste of what we can look forward to as the cannabis industry grows in Michigan. Detroit must be strategic in planning for this growth. To prevent many of the issues we are dealing with now and into the future, we must center Detroit residents, low-income communities, and communities of color who were impacted by the war on drugs, particularly in a city with a 64% poverty rate. The following changes to the current ordinance will help move Detroit in the right direction.

1. Re-zoning to 500 ft for certain locations like liquor stores.

2. Incentivizing the hiring of veterans.

3. 50% of permits for Medical Marijuana facilities must be given to Detroit residents. 

4. Not barring those with prior marijuana convictions from equity ownership. 

5.  A Community Benefits Program where revenue must go to beautifying the city, after-school programs, community centers, and other programs that contribute to the prosperity of our city and our youth.

Forward thinking is the only way to stake our claim to the future. The possible economic prosperity of the legalization of marijuana for Detroit can’t be ignored. By being completely open to the cannabis industry we can better strategize on how and where to invest funds within the city and ensure that Detroiters get a piece of the cannabis pie as well.