Detroit must stop processing recreational marijuana business licenses for now, judge orders


A medical marijuana dispensary in Detroit. - STEVE NEAVLING
  • Steve Neavling
  • A medical marijuana dispensary in Detroit.

A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked the city of Detroit from processing recreational marijuana business applications.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman issued a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit challenging a new ordinance that gives licensing preference to longtime Detroiters.

Crystal Lowe, who has lived in Detroit for 11 of the past 30 years, filed the lawsuit last month, saying the city “has almost certainly denied” her opportunity to obtain a license because the ordinance’s “licensing scheme favors certain Detroit residents over other Michiganders based on the duration of their residency,” the lawsuit states.

Under the “legacy” ordinance, applicants are given priority if they’ve lived in the city for 15 of the last 30 years, lived in Detroit for 13 of the last 30 years and are low-income, or lived in Detroit for 10 of the last 30 years and have a past marijuana-related criminal conviction. At least 50% of the licenses must be issued to legacy residents.

The lawsuit argues the ordinance is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

“Time and time again, Michigan courts have struck down municipal licensing schemes for private businesses that discriminate based on residency,” Lowe’s attorney Kevin M. Blair of the Honigman law firm wrote in a motion requesting a temporary restraining order. He called the ordinance “pure economic protectionism.”

The city confirmed it is temporarily halting the licensing process.

“The adult-use license application process is on hold, by temporary order of the court,” Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said in a statement. “The city’s Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity Office will reach out to certified Legacy Detroiters to offer general advice and support while the litigation is pending.”

The City Council unanimously approved the ordinance in November. The idea was to ensure that longtime residents weren’t squeezed out by outside profiteers. Only a few of the city’s 46 medical marijuana dispensaries are owned by Detroiters.

“We have an ordinance that gives longtime Detroiters an unprecedented opportunity to benefit from this new industry in their city,” Mayor Mike Duggan said at the time.

The city began accepting recreational marijuana business licenses in January. The city plans to provide licenses to as many as 75 recreational marijuana retailers and 35 cannabis consumption lounges.

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