Judge halts recreational marijuana licensing in Detroit over ‘likely unconstitutional’ ordinance

District court judge rules against ordinance meant to address inequity among Detroit residents through cannabis industry

A district court judge ruled Thursday to halt the granting of recreational marijuana licenses in the city of Detroit over an ordinance that allegedly favors certain Detroit residents over other applicants.

DETROIT – A district court judge ruled Thursday to halt the granting of recreational marijuana licenses in the city of Detroit over an ordinance that allegedly favors certain Detroit residents over other applicants.

District Judge Bernard Friedman granted a preliminary injunction Thursday barring the city of Detroit from providing recreational marijuana licenses, saying the city’s licensing process “gives an unfair, irrational, and likely unconstitutional advantage to long-term Detroit residents over all other applicants.”

When the city announced its plans for licensing after recreational marijuana use was approved by the Detroit City Council, officials announced a clause in the program designed to benefit residents who have lived in Detroit for at least 10 of the last 30 years, and who have reportedly disproportionately suffered from the effects of the War on Drugs since the 1990s.

More: Detroit City Council reveals recreational marijuana licensing plans

Under Detroit’s recreational marijuana ordinance, the city moved to establish a “Detroit Legacy” clause that would ensure residents who qualify as “legacies” are considered for at least half of the available licenses. Legacy Detroiters would also be able to apply for a recreational marijuana license exclusively for six weeks ahead of the traditional application period.

Those who qualify as a legacy applicant are individuals who currently live in Detroit and can prove that they have lived in Detroit for 15 of the last 30 years, have lived in Detroit for 13 of the last 30 years and are low income or have lived in Detroit for 10 of the last 30 years and have a marijuana conviction.

Legacy applicants would also be able to purchase city-owned land at 25% fair market value, according to the city.

“Cannabis criminalization and its enforcement has had long-term, adverse impacts to the city of Detroit, particularly for low income and minority Detroit residents. Jurisdictions throughout the United States are attempting to address the impacts of past cannabis policies and their inequalities by developing and implementing cannabis policies that seek to center equity in cannabis policy reform.

“Social equity policy is one tool that is used to acknowledge and repair the harm caused by the War on Drugs and the disparate enforcement of cannabis prohibition. The goal of the Social Equity policy is, ‘to promote equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry in order to decrease disparities in life outcomes for marginalized communities, and to address the disproportionate impacts of the War on Drugs in those communities.’”

Brenda Jones, Detroit City Council President

Companies like Michigan-based Pleasantrees have also pushed for equity in the marijuana industry, attempting to eliminate the historic cultural stigma surrounding marijuana and address racial disparities related to the policing of marijuana.

“We’re trying to level the playing field,” said Jerome Crawford, director of legal operations and social equity at Pleasantrees. “When you have this industry that has been criminalized by a prohibition (but) is now legal, it’s really about balancing those scales and trying to even it out.”

More: Michigan’s marijuana industry leaves people of color behind

However, Judge Friedman on Thursday ruled in favor of a complaint that Detroit’s ordinance was discriminatory against license applicants who do not or have not lived in Detroit for the time period outlined in the Detroit Legacy clause.

“The Ordinance’s facial favoritism toward Detroit residents of at least 10-15 years embodies precisely the sort of economic protectionism that the Supreme Court has long prohibited,” Friedman wrote in his opinion filed Thursday.

Plaintiff Crystal Lowe claimed that Detroit’s ordinance discriminated against her as she does not qualify as a legacy applicant because she has lived in Detroit for the last 11 years, was previously a resident of River Rouge, living out of state prior to that.

“It is also irrational to grant the preference to residents of Detroit but deny it to those of other communities, such as neighboring River Rouge, when residents of both cities presumably suffered from the War on Drugs to the same extent,” Friedman’s opinion continued.

Friedman says that more than 400 legacy applicants had already been certified by the city of Detroit before the motion for a preliminary injunction was filed. An amicus brief was filed by legacy advocates in support of the Detroit Legacy clause, claiming that legacy applicants would experience economic harm if the injunction was approved, as some have already invested tens of thousands of dollars in projects and businesses. Friedman said Thursday that any economic harm would be the “result of these applicants investing money before obtaining a license, which they did at their own risk.”

The state of Michigan had voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2018 by an 11-point margin, with 50 of Michigan’s 83 counties voting in favor of the proposal. Recreational marijuana has since been legal in the state since December 2018.

Several communities, including the city of Detroit, had initially opted out of participating in the recreational cannabis business.

The Detroit City Council unanimously voted in favor of the adult-use recreational marijuana ordinance in November of 2019, and the Detroit Legacy clause in question was proposed in October of 2020.

You can read the entire court order below.

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About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.