A Happy Ending...Or So We Thought: Detroit's Fight for Social Equity
“Social equity.” What does that actually mean? If you pose that question to anyone in the cannabis industry, you’re sure to get a hundred different answers based on a hundred different factors. And, while, it may seem like just a buzzword to some, there are many states and municipalities striving to build social equity programs that actually achieve what they were designed to achieve: social equity. Detroit is one city that built a program to do just that.
The Detroit Legacy program is a part of the Medical Marijuana Facilities and Adult-Use Marijuana Establishments ordinance, which outlines the overall adult-use cannabis program in Detroit. The ordinance was crafted by councilman James Tate, his staff, Detroit’s legal department, as well as grassroots cannabis professionals, and was created with the goal of ensuring that Detroit residents get their fair share of ownership in the Detroit cannabis market. In order to make sure that happened, some pretty specific criteria was included in the program. One can be considered a Legacy Detroiter if they have done the following:
Lived in Detroit for 15 of the last 30 years, or
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 marijuana conviction or have a parent with a marijuana conviction.
Using this criteria, the goal was for no less than 50% of licenses to be awarded to Detroiters. For the Detroiters who achieved Legacy status, they will have access to several benefits designed to reduce the barriers to ownership in the cannabis industry:
A 99% discount on licensing fees in 2021 and 75% discount on licensing fees in 2022.
A 75% discount on city-owned land.
Ability to apply for a one-year “provisional” status if the applicant does yet own a property
With all that said, Detroit was excited to kick off the Legacy pre-certification process which opened on January 1st 2021, even though the adult-use program wasn’t due to begin accepting applications until April 1st, 2021. There were even several privately-run programs and incubators created solely to help prepare Legacy applicants to navigate the application process. To put it simply: Detroit was ready.
However on March 2nd, the program was challenged by a lawsuit claiming that the program was unconstitutional and unfair. Crystal Lowe, the woman who filed the lawsuit, does not meet the criteria to be considered a Legacy applicant because even though she’s lived in Detroit, she briefly spent some time living in Georgia and thus does not meet the “consecutive years” requirement. Lowe has said that she feels the ordinance “discriminates against out-of-state residents and punishes people for moving between states.”
Many have questioned why Crystal did not attempt to partner with residents who met the criteria for Detroit Legacy status. Several cannabis professionals believe that Crystal was paid by a large corporation to file the lawsuit and become the face of this initiative.
As a result of this lawsuit, the application process for adult-use licenses has been put completely on hold until May 27th when a court hearing is scheduled to take place. Depending on the outcome of this lawsuit, the entire adult-use cannabis program could be in jeopardy. The city of Detroit has said that it would cancel the entire adult-use program if the court case rules in favor of Lowe. In other words, recreational cannabis will not be permitted in the city of Detroit.
Not only does this mean that the hundreds of applicants who have already submitted applications are at risk of losing the time and money they’ve invested into obtaining a license, this also means that many residents of Detroit, which is 80% African American just lost an opportunity to become a part of this billion dollar industry within their home town.
Unfortunately, this lawsuit speaks to the tone deafness that still exists when it comes to the existence of systematic racism and lack of opportunity for people of color. And as more states come online and build out their social equity programs, it's important that we as an industry do what we can to protect those programs and the people who will benefit the most from them.
To put it frankly, the fight is far from over. In fact this is just the beginning...
About the Author
Cree Robinson is the co-founder of touCanna, an operations management software for dispensaries. She lives in Detroit with her partner and 2 fur babies. She loves to meet new people and can be found on instagram, clubhouse (@cree.robinson) and LinkedIn (Cree Robinson).