Every city with medical marijuana dispensaries has a unique story to tell. Perhaps one of the most fascinating locations that is teeming with cannabis shops is Detroit, Michigan.
Most of the stores are located around areas with communities of medical marijuana patients. Some can be found in deserted commercial locations, which were once bustling with small businesses before industrial restructuring caused a rapid decline in the city’s population.
The current state of Detroit’s medical marijuana scene was recently captured in a series called Detroit Nocturne by Dave Jordano, a local photographer. The photos revealed that the city’s cannabis community is very active; and dispensary owners have a deep obsession with green neon lights.
Michigan’s road to cannabis legalization was rough. The city authorized medical marijuana laws in 2008 under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, but the guidelines were not enforced thoroughly. For example, some shops got away with operating a dispensary without an official license. Instead, business owners used the same permit that applied to operating a generic medical supply store. This might seem like a classic case of dispensaries trying to bend the law in their favor- but it’s not. The city approved the permits and allowed individuals to do business for many years.
In 2013, the Michigan Supreme Court surprised the community by clarifying that medical dispensaries are illegal in the state. As a result, the city was forced to implement standard laws for dispensary owners, such as background checks, operating licenses and mandatory health regulations. Around 22 dispensaries around Detroit succumbed to the pressure and shut down. Today, there are an estimated 150 dispensaries in the area. Some took over old buildings that were previously home to a wide range of everyday businesses, like barber shops, pharmacies and strip clubs.
“I just love this entrepreneurial spirit of all these individuals having their own say in what these shops should look like, what their names are, what strains they sell, what they profess to heal and cure,” said Jordano. “Everyone’s got their own thing going, and it’s very independent.”
Preparing for the Green Rush
The future of Detroit’s medical cannabis scene looks bright. Despite getting hit by curveballs left and right, local dispensary owners are keen on following the new guidelines. The latest one involves controversial zoning regulations that are forcing individuals to move their stores in new neighborhoods, located in the outskirts and suburbs of Detroit. Some people claim that officials are mostly targeting dispensaries that are catering to customers without state certification.
In 2015, the City Council approved restrictions that prevents the operation of dispensaries within 1,000 feet from educational institutions (schools and universities), churches, child care facilities and libraries. Lastly, cannabis establishments must also be located within 1,000 feet from each other.
“Making medical marijuana hard to get to seems counterproductive,” said Michael Sarafa, a Farmington Hills-based zoning and regulatory attorney. “It’s a bit of the wild, wild west.”