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Detroit, Bankrupt a Few Years Ago, Seems Uninterested In Reaping Medical Marijuana Millions Now

City officials have sued to overturn voter-approved ordinances to expand access to dispensaries.

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Detroit, a city that in recent years had to file a multi-billion dollar bankruptcy, is in danger of missing out on generating millions of dollars in taxes and fees with the legal medical marijuana industry.

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As Michigan gears up to begin medical marijuana sales, including holding educational sessions around the state for those interested in the marijuana business, Detroit is something of a no-fly zone when it comes to cannabis.

An attorney who consults for the marijuana industry in Michigan told the Detroit Free Press that she has advised prospective marijuana business owners “to stay away from Detroit” out of concern the city will not soon untangle the legal knots currently surrounding regulation of medical marijuana.

Related: Massachusetts Won't Allow Cannabis Cafes or Marijuana Home Delivery After All

A Complicated History

There’s a long history of difficulties and legal battles surrounding marijuana laws in Michigan. Approved by state voters in 2008, medical marijuana became legal in the state the following year under what is now considered a poorly written Michigan Medical Marijuana Act.

How poorly written? According to one local law firm, the act failed to even make it clear that marijuana dispensaries are legal.

The act launched many rounds of legal action. The Michigan Court of Appeals found the state's “inartfully drafted” marijuana law left state residents unclear about the circumstances in which they could use marijuana (much less grow, transport and sell it).

In 2016, state lawmakers, attempting to clear up the confusion, passed the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act (yes, they spell it with an “h”). It sets out rules for licensing marijuana dispensaries.

Detroit, however, may not participate.

Related: California Studies Viability of a Public Bank for Marijuana Businesses

Detroit Legal Quagmire

The marijuana issue in Detroit right now is bogged down by a lawsuit won by Detroit officials against, essentially, the city’s own voters. The city at one point had more than 200 medical marijuana dispensaries. That number was cut down a few years ago as Detroit officials began to develop a new plan on how to license dispensaries.

The plan included reducing the number of dispensaries to 50 and basing them in industrial areas. However, in November 2017, 60 percent of Detroit voters approved city ordinances that would have opened the medical marijuana business to more entrepreneurs.

The city then sued to overturn that referendum. A judge ruled in the city’s favor last month, throwing out most of what voters had approved.

With the rules still up in the air in Detroit, many believe that medical marijuana businesses will simply move to the suburbs, costing the city money and jobs.

Medical marijuana advocates now plan to file another lawsuit against the city, claiming leaders are ignoring the will of the people. For Michigan and Detroit, it’s just another chapter in what has become a very long and complicated medical marijuana story.

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