“Detroit is doing all the wrong things for all the right reasons”
June 20, 2022 9:45 AM   Subscribe

The lack of recreational weed shops in Michigan’s largest city is not exactly by choice. But it wasn’t by accident either. For more than two years, city officials have attempted to launch an adult-use market. But their efforts to ensure that the fledgling industry reflects the city’s demographics by giving preferential treatment to long-time residents or people living in areas disproportionately targeted by criminal enforcement have led to numerous lawsuits and endless delays. The result is a still-born market where everyone is failing. [Politico]
posted by riruro (34 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
With the insane glut of cannabis dispensaries here in Ontario (majority-owned chains), it's hard for dispensaries owned by POC to get traction here too. The licensing field is definitely geared towards big money, as are most LPs. I would rather have dispensaries en masse that are the passion and love of people whose communities have been wronged by a plant.
posted by Kitteh at 9:59 AM on June 20 [5 favorites]

It's funny how much weirdness there is surrounding legalizing retail pot shops. It's been over 5 years where I live, the city made strange rules that restricted the number to one per district. Setup an onerous application process that ended up favoring chains (like Kitteh's comment about Ontario), slowed the roll out of things and we still only have 4 out of 7 allowable stores open.

Now the city council is finally trying to put into place an equity program to boost POC representation in the business and changing the rules to open up where a shop can be placed, because all of those big businesses dropped them right along Colorado Blvd to grab that Route 66 traffic.
posted by drewbage1847 at 10:08 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]

I think it’s a fight and goal worth holding ground for. A lot of the micro-farms (your typical growers’ market farms) in NM were eagerly hoping to get into the business when NM signaled that legalization was in the works, because diversifying what you sell means you can continue to afford to sell wholesome veggies, but the licensing fees and other regulations priced everyone I talked to right out. There was talk about creating a micro-farmer cooperative, but dirt poor farmers had a hard, hard time finding the hours or funds to pull that together quickly. Hang tight, Detroit.
posted by Silvery Fish at 10:11 AM on June 20 [8 favorites]

I wonder if it would be possible to do targeted business grants to help people start dispensaries? That might be harder to challenge legally and if the city council is actually interested in equity they might be able to create a streamlined process. Where is the money to come from, of course?
posted by Frowner at 10:50 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]

The bottom line: Most of the biggest weed chains in the country are still losing money.

I had no idea this was the case, but it does seem that even the big MSOs are still losing a ton money. Curaleaf did over a billion dollars in revenue last year and still reported more than a hundred million in losses. How long can the big guys keep spending money to expand without the feds letting them operate like normal businesses?

I'd like to be cautiously optimistic about NY's adult-use market, with the first licenses going to equity applicants and a $200m fund to help them kickstart their businesses, but everything OCM does seems to be a bit haphazard. Just for a start, they've approved a couple hundred acres of adult-use crops that are in the ground already, but with the long comment period required after any rule proposals, it doesn't seem possible that there will be anyone to sell them to when they're harvested. What do you do with hundreds of pounds of flower you can't legally sell, and hundreds more of trim you can't legally process?

I do hope that NYC, in particular, is looking at this situation in Detroit and figuring out how to make it right for its many, many "justice-involved" (as the regulations put it) potential applicants. NYC is full of completely unregulated (and unprosecuted) pot shops right now, and OCM has made it clear that they don't want to issue licenses to them when the market opens. But Eric Adams is, let's be frank, a maniac who is obsessed with bringing revenue to the city, so who knows what he'll try when the time comes.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:12 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, even some of the biggest LPs are just hemorrhaging money. Again, people thought it was a green rush when legalization here started, so people did dumb dumb things, thinking they'd be rich. The Walrus had a great article about the massive amount of surplus weed that couldn't be sold and how companies overcompensated for the legal market.

It will be four years here of complete federal legalization in October 2022; the current Liberal government is due to review the Cannabis Act because as much as I love it (and I do! I love this industry), the benefits are really geared to large scale LPs and I hear constantly about small growers who want to compete but can't afford to do so.
posted by Kitteh at 11:25 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]

We spent a few days in Detroit this May, for the first time in a couple of years. We were struck by how many ads (billboards, signs, tv) there were for weed.
posted by doctornemo at 11:37 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]

as much as I love it (and I do! I love this industry), the benefits are really geared to large scale LPs and I hear constantly about small growers who want to compete but can't afford to do so.

I wonder how that will play out here in NY, once the regulations are written. The cannabis law allows for "microbusiness" licenses that are intended to allow small growers to distribute and deliver their own product without having an expensive storefront (and more-expensive "dispensary" license). Whether they can do this and remain profitable the way NY's many small "farm breweries" do is another question whose answer might be in the way the regulations wind up being written.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:46 AM on June 20

Out here in the PNW and general West Coast even unlicensed or bootleg cannabis prices have plummeted. High quality groomed flower has gone from 1500 USD or more per pound to as little as 500 or less. Even at licensed shops you can pick up high quality ounces for less than $100.

Also there's a lot more people dabbling in casual personal growing since it's extremely unlikely they're going to be charged with anything for a few plants.

I haven't bought any cannabis in almost a year. People just keep giving it to me. I smoke a lot less than I used to but I probably have enough random and fairly nice cannabis to last me over a year at this point even if I started smoking a lot more.

On the licensed front there's a shop in Seattle called Uncle Ike's that you should avoid. The owner is total jerk and a scumbag who has done some really shitty things. For starters their flagship store is located in Seattle's Central District neighborhood which was historically black and redlined via racist housing covenants right on the same interesction where there used to be illicit sales and a bunch of PoC who went to jail for the same thing, and now some rich white guy has a huge shiny storefront there that seems to primarily cater to tourists and visitors from out of state.

The owner has also done some super shitty things that leveraged the weird WA state licensing laws like pre-emptively opening an arcade near the proposed storefront of a competitor, thus denying them their license because you can't open a storefront anywhere near certain businesses that might attract children.

Like minors of today have any interest in going to a retro/vintage video game arcade and spending real money on a bunch of retro games they can play at home for free, heh.

As I recall the owner shut down the arcade after the competitors licensed was denied due to this flaw in the licensing and opened up a new cannabis shop in the same location.

Anyway, we're well on track for this satirical comment about legalized cannabis that I made almost exactly 14 years ago to become more fact than fiction and cannabis is about as valuable and mysterious as cilantro or kale.
posted by loquacious at 12:15 PM on June 20 [8 favorites]

Also, parts of that comment haven't aged well socially speaking and I wish I could edit or rewrite some of those parts to be funny without punching down or even sideways.

Also the prices I'm quoting are, in hindsight, ridiculous.

Some of the names of strains are spot on, though. One of my local favorites last year was "Where's my bicycle?" which I would purchase while riding my bicycle and planning on going for a nice and very stoned bike ride. I knew one of the budtenders and he always got a kick out of that. "Have a nice bike ride!"
posted by loquacious at 12:21 PM on June 20 [1 favorite]

One of my local favorites last year was "Where's my bicycle?

I've been saying for years that pot companies were taking all of the band names (not just the good ones, all of them), but it looks like even they have come up with a dry well.
posted by rhizome at 1:01 PM on June 20 [1 favorite]

All these regulations are really dumb. If they want locals to do it, just specify which zones they can be placed in (being really specific like a suburb), and then run a drive to identify locals who could actually run the businesses via the chamber of commerce or grapevine or whatever other talent identification methods they have, and then fund via grants or loans. If they don't have a business talent grapevine, then the regulations are pointless because like they found, no-one qualifies and has the money, so they defacto bans. Nothing wrong with banning unless someone can literally cross a cityline to defeat it.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:49 PM on June 20

i just love how these city councils assume that no one will be selling pot in their city until they approve it
posted by pyramid termite at 1:53 PM on June 20 [3 favorites]

I think it’s safe to assume that Detroit’s city council is aware of the existence of an unregulated market for drugs in Detroit.
posted by theclaw at 3:02 PM on June 20 [16 favorites]

weed is one of the few products going down in price. Flint has 13-17 dispos alone. The road I work on has three.
Haven't gone to "the dude" or seen a seed in years. When all the rec went up, my bubby and I would go, buy a pre-roll, get one free.
like scoring an quarter for free.
You can buy an 1/8 for 15$ for mids, like 18-19%, 3 years ago it would run 25 on the Street. In Michigan, a citizen can grow up to 12 plants as long as it's secure, it's legal.
it's just growing everywhere around here.
One expense that could use improvement is testing costs.
posted by clavdivs at 4:55 PM on June 20

The problem that I've started to see in recreational-legal states is that everyone seems want to go after the high-end "boutique" market, have high-street storefront operations, etc. And I'm not sure how big that market really is, or will be when things settle down in a few years.

There's a risk that small players are going to take out loans on disadvantageous terms, overspend on consultants and paperwork facilitators to navigate the byzantine processes that municipalities have thrown up, and end up getting hurt when the high-end, high-margin storefront market ends up oversaturated.

That's not to say that slow-rolling licenses is really defensible, but some of the small time, mom-and-pop operators may have FOMO now, but may feel like they've dodged a bullet later on, if it turns out the cannabis market leans more towards Budweiser than microbrew.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:31 PM on June 20

Some of the names of strains are spot on, though. One of my local favorites last year was "Where's my bicycle?"

Somebody needs to market "I see prehistoric beasts", "Dad, no, wait, the bike's still chained to the truck" and "I am friends with many black people".
posted by flabdablet at 3:39 AM on June 21

The cannabis industry is becoming so gross that I almost regret being a lifetime legalization activist. It's becoming a combination of the worst things about the alcohol, tobacco, and quack medicine industries. Combined with the overlay of high bourgeois aesthetics that repulses me. Luckily many states allow you to grow your own and the practice is exploding this year, with lights and seeds sold out many places online. When people learn you can grow better weed than you can buy if you have a spare corner of a basement or a sunny back yard and at a cost of pennies per gram, about as easily as growing tomatoes, they barf at $6 a gram, let alone the $10+ a gram it costs in many states. The home grow industry produces such a huge surplus that it is driving down black market prices in lots of places as people like me just give away pounds of the stuff to our friends. Prices have fallen so much in west coast legal states that growers are shutting down and a lot of "legal" grows are supplying black markets in newly legal states without adequate dispensaries, or in some cases, just undercutting dispensary prices by more than 50% without the creepy hassle of showing an ID that gets scanned or being told nonsense ("indica dominant makes you sleepy!" Lol) by some newly hired budtender who (pretends to) believe the BS marketing ("this strain is good for migraines!") and the nonsense labeling ("34% THC," virtually impossible) on the absurd plastic packaging of their overpriced weed, and all the dumb derivative concentrate products (who trusts that stuff, you're nuts to vape concentrates from carriages if you know how the chemicals involved in how that shit gets made!). Meanwhile greedy politicians on the take are happy to see it taxed like a sin and prices like it was still illegal so they can get their cut.

Living in Mass for the last five years really showed me what this industry was about, which is highway robbery during a gold rush based on the persistent aura of vice and illegality and the fact that our neighboring states (including NYC) weren't yet legal. Now that's over I'm hoping the Mass dispensary business and the politicians they pay off take a significant haircut. No one around me in western mass buys from dispensaries. That is for tourists. We all grow it out back.

TLDR growing your own while we still can is the only way to shut some of this BS down. They want to take that away from us and many legal states still don't permit significant home growing. The average cannabis user could supply her own needs easily with two autoflower plants in rotation in a 2x2 tent running less than 200 watts of electricity. Outdoors is best anyway, the sun is free and and provides way more yield and better quality anyway, for me. 100% organic and tastes better than most of what you buy. I expect to harvest 15 pounds this fall, at a total cost of less than a dime a gram, all inputs but my own time includesd.
posted by spitbull at 4:23 AM on June 21 [7 favorites]

Missed the edit window but "carriages" should be vape "cartridges," and if you smoke those things you're crazy.
posted by spitbull at 4:29 AM on June 21

I was wondering if people were holding off on the analysis of the touted economic benefits provided by this industry to the states that permit it until something happened federally.
posted by Selena777 at 6:28 AM on June 21

Absolutely. Dispensaries can't bank like a normal business so they have way too much cash on hand and there are quite labyrinthine and dangerous ways to shunt that money around for safety, even in legal states. I am not sure if we have the same banking issue here in Canada but there is still a bit of visual sin tax. Dispensaries aren't permitted to have clear glass windows; it must be frosted or somehow covered from passers-by, which have made robberies a not uncommon occurrence.

And yes, growing your own is absurdly easy--basically ignore anything the weed bros tell you about lighting and nutrients etc because that is a gross male space right there--if you do it outdoors. This is my second year for my legal four here in Ontario and I honestly find it fun. I mean, I love the end result but the plants themselves are pretty cool. I won't bother with indoor growing because I don't find it as intriguing and way too fiddly.
posted by Kitteh at 7:15 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]

Indoors is a good place to propagate seedlings and cuttings.

Outdoors is a good place to give plants enough space to mature and realize their magnificent full potential.

They do very well on horse poo.
posted by flabdablet at 8:10 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who lives in Utah. She has an uncle who lives in southern Oregon. My friend has run some auctioneering stuff. So went to Medford to run a weed auction for her uncle.

It was a disaster. No one was willing to offer more than $5 an ounce.

Still, it is nice to be able to go to a weed shop and get a gram of great weed for $8. In five minutes. But not a business I want to invest in.
posted by Windopaene at 9:12 AM on June 21

We were struck by how many ads (billboards, signs, tv) there were for weed.

As someone who drives north from Toledo quite a bit the billboard ads would give the impression that weed was the #1 product of Michigan.
posted by charred husk at 11:03 AM on June 21

We were struck by how many ads (billboards, signs, tv) there were for weed.

As someone who drives north from Toledo quite a bit the billboard ads would give the impression that weed was the #1 product of Michigan.

And there's maybe two of those billboards that are remotely subtle about it. It's mostly DANK EXPRESS and STICKY ICKY EXIT HEREICKY.
posted by Etrigan at 11:11 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]

DC is having the same issue, as the medical cannabis dispensaries are pushing for emergency legislation by the city council to allow, basically, people to walk into a dispensary, self-certify their need for weed, and get served same day (vs. having to get a doctor to certify, sending the paperwork and fee to the city, wait to get a card, etc., etc.).

I can't tell if it's a money grab, an attempt to edge even closer to full legalization without tripping Congress' wire, or a defense against the "pay $80 for this lovely print/smoothie/baseball cap, oh, and get a complimentary bag of weed too" shops that have sprung up. But the dispensaries here have successfully pushed to get the monthly allotment per person (with a medical cannabis card) upped to eight ounces, so, clearly, there's official sympathy with this approach.
posted by the sobsister at 11:47 AM on June 21

Weed is one of the greatest things on this planet, and is associated with some of the coolest and most creative people in the history of humanity.

And in a few short years, weed has now become uncool, thanks to the bro-tastic legal weed hucksters that have a lot more in common with Crypto-bros than they do Bob Marley. In short, greed ruined weed.

Which is fine, whatever. It's still an incredible medicine/drug. Spitbull you encapsulated so many of my own feelings, I used to dream of legalization and now that it's here, it went down exactly like every other capitalist bullshit. I still believe there is a long-term benefit to society, hopefully when it all shakes out we'll see alcohol and opiate use decline, which was always my main legalization justification.
posted by chaz at 12:52 PM on June 21 [5 favorites]

The problem that I've started to see in recreational-legal states is that everyone seems want to go after the high-end "boutique" market, have high-street storefront operations, etc. And I'm not sure how big that market really is, or will be when things settle down in a few years.

I'd argue that there is no weed market profitable enough to run an independent store other than the boutique market. And that that market isn't all that large.

As stated multiple times above weed is about as hard to grow as tomatoes and barring legislation would command tomato like prices. And even low legal maximums on numbers of home grown plants produce way more than even people with medium size habits can consume. Last year around here (in what is an admittedly I'm told an excellent area to grow weed outdoors) people were just giving it away like zucchini.

And though super market tomatoes might as well be dyed cardboard there aren't dedicated tomato stores on every other street corner. The only thing propping up weed stores is legal restrictions on selling locations. And those stores still can only make a profit on boutique product. Once(if) you can buy weed legal at the farmers market (or 7/11) and as part of CSAs most weed stores are going to go out of business.
posted by Mitheral at 4:57 PM on June 21

Once(if) you can buy weed legal at the farmers market (or 7/11) and as part of CSAs most weed stores are going to go out of business.

Depending on how NY’s microbusiness licenses end up written, this might very well happen here. Small growers will be allowed to dispense directly to consumers. Of course, they’ll still have to pay license fees and test their products, so who knows if it will be cost-effective.

I’d like to grow a backyard plant or two but the “must be secured” regulation is sort of a bummer.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:14 PM on June 21

I’d like to grow a backyard plant or two but the “must be secured” regulation is sort of a bummer.

Inside a fence, like a swimming pool?
posted by mikelieman at 1:23 AM on June 22

Honestly I don't know how the NY regs (and enforcement / interpretation) will shake out (particularly in localities like mine where they'd love to all-but-prevent cultivation). The proposed regulations, as written, are vague, but now that I really look that them, they actually seem to preclude outdoor cultivation: the measures suggested to "secure" the cannabis include ensuring that the plants are not visible from the street or from the grounds of the cultivator's residence. So ... they need to be completely enclosed?
posted by uncleozzy at 4:35 AM on June 22

A framed green house with white obscure polycarbonate panels would meet the requirements but would cost a lot more than just buying some weed. Or possibly a chain link fence with privacy slats if people can't look down from nearby buildings. Cheaper than the green house but not as sight line blocking.

If you could collect some large windows (sliding patio doors can often get got for the price of transport) you could sand or acid etch them and make five or six foot square shed by screwing them together (with maybe an assist from four 4x4s acting as posts). Keep them off the ground by setting them on pressure treated 2x4s or aome bricks/pavers/ patio tiles. Build a little 11" high pony wall on one side, place a 2x6 on edge parallel to bisect the area and then cover with poly carbonate roofing. Cover the open ends with hardware cloth to keep out rats and birds.
posted by Mitheral at 5:03 AM on June 22

Having some kind of roof over your plant can be handy if it rains during flowering season, because rain getting in amongst dense clusters of bud can easily end up growing mould in all their otherwise delicious little hearts.

Probably not really practicable for a fifteen-foot horse-poo-fed monster, but if you don't have space and security for one of those then certainly worth considering.
posted by flabdablet at 6:22 AM on June 22

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