Deadline Detroit | Detroit’s dearth of recreational pot shops draws national attention

James Tate.

The recreational marijuana landscape in Detroit has gotten so bad that Politico had to parachute in for a piece about Black marijuanapreneurs getting skunked by the hold up for a license.

It was almost three years ago that Councilmember James Tate decided to slow walk an ordinance to allow recreational sales in the city with the goal of ensuring longtime Detroiters could benefit from the new business opportunity. After all, the thinking went, prohibition had disproportionately hurt Black people.

But Politico reports businesses — including at least one Black-owned one — are getting squeezed out by competition in neighboring cities where recreational marijuana is legal.

Kimberly Scott, founder of the Black Cannabis Licensed Business Owners Association of Detroit, had to shut her dispensary, Chronic City, within months of opening in 2021. She’d spent four years trying to open it.

At the time, Scott hoped to be able to quickly transition into the much larger and potentially more profitable recreational market, which Michigan voters had approved back in 2018. She was banking on rules Detroit had passed that would place native Detroiters like Scott at the front of the line for licenses to sell to anyone over 21. But weeks passed — and then months — and the license never came. Unable to sell to anyone who lacked a medical card, Scott told me she would routinely turn away customers — as many as 20 per day — directing them to the recreational shops just a few miles away in Hamtramck, a city of 28,000 where four recreational pot Shops have opened in the past two years.

“There were days I didn’t make any money in this place,” Scott told me. “That’s unheard of for selling weed.”

Six months and a couple of break-ins later, Scott locked the front door for good.

Hamtramck, Ferndale, and other suburbs all have recreational dispensaries — meaning customers don’t have to jump through the added hoops of obtaining a valid medical card. According to Politico, all of Detroit’s 63 above-board dispensaries can only sell medical marijuana. That’s as recreational revenues statewide jump to $163 million, well above the medical market’s $23 million.

While Politico writes that Tate has ultimately created “a still-born market where everyone is failing,” the council member defends his actions by pointing to the current ownership demographics in the city.

According to the Black Cannabis Licensed Business Owners Association of Detroit, the city’s more than 60 licensed dispensaries, just 10 are Black-owned, and some of those like Chronic City are no longer in business. (Tate) doesn’t believe entrepreneurs would be better off if the city simply got out of the way and let the market sort out winners and losers.

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