Frustrated, Michigan? Here’s why there’s no cannabis store near you

Published on December 3, 2019 · Last updated July 28, 2020
A handful of stores sold more than $200,000 worth of cannabis products on the first day of legal sales. But most Michiganders will have to drive more than an hour to find an open shop. (CSA Images/iStock)

Greetings, Michiganders! So you’re seeing news reports about the legal cannabis sales that began Dec. 1. You’re hearing that more than $200,000 worth of products went out the door on the first day of business on Sunday.

Nearly 80% of cities and townships have banned adult-use cannabis stores entirely.

You’re thinking, “Hey, I can just drive down the street and…”

Then you realize there’s no store within a four-hour drive.

If you’re like most residents of this state just looking for a good legal bowl to smoke, you’ve felt the pain. Here are the top three reasons you don’t have a cannabis store near you, and what you can do to change that.

1. You’re in Detroit

The Detroit City Council had a full year to debate what it would look like to allow adult-use cannabis stores. They’re not unfamiliar with the product. The city and its surrounding areas already have 39 medical dispensaries, the most in the state. However, at its Nov. 5 meeting, the council decided to prohibit legal cannabis shops until at least Jan. 31, 2020, to give the city more time to craft regulations. This, despite the fact that Michigan voters approved legal cannabis stores more than a year ago.

Michigan retail cannabis sales start Dec. 1: Here’s what you need to know

The end result? Urban and suburban Detroit residents won’t be able to saunter into a store near them any time soon. There is a ray of hope, however. Michigan began accepting license applications on Nov. 1, and Detroit didn’t prohibit stores until Nov. 5. In that five-day window, savvy entrepreneurs got their paperwork in to the state. So as far as state officials are concerned, they’ll be legal, and those licenses are likely to kick in before the end of the year.

2. You live in a cannabis desert

With just five recreational dispensaries open across the state for now, and all but one of them in Ann Arbor (the sole exception being Michigan Supply and Provisions in Morenci), it can be a pain to drive all that way to enjoy the fruits of nature’s labor. And even then, some of the operating shops are offering only limited selections and quantities for now.

Here’s the hard truth: Nearly 80% of cities and townships have banned adult-use cannabis stores entirely. That leaves medical dispensaries as the only option for a lot of folks. To get past the front door, you’ll need a card that costs anywhere from $60 to $150, after a process that involves getting certified by a doctor. (See Leafly’s guide to how to get your medical card in Michigan.)

Barring that, you might be left with buying weed from … you know, “Jerry’s brother.” The “not in our town” attitude that most municipalities have adopted leaves many consumers reliant on the illicit market.

3. Stores in your area are coming, but not yet approved

Patience, my dear patients. The state is approving new retail cannabis licenses every day. Like every state that has legalized cannabis for adult use, this initial process will evolve into a more efficient system. Product variety will explode, and prices will come down.

If you find yourself stuck in a cannabis desert, there are things you can do. You’re going to have to force a change.

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What you can do about it

  • You can start by attending city council meetings. Bring the issue of cannabis to the council. Voice your opinion. Bring hard data that show the revenue and tax base available to your town. Direct town leaders to studies that found the presence of legal, regulated cannabis stores did not increase crime, did not increase underage use, and had a positive effect on nearby property values. Bring friends who agree with you, and speak up. Show your elected officials that cannabis advocates are upstanding citizens who vote.
  • Running for office is also worth considering. If your entire city council is made up of people who don’t know cannabis from rhubarb, and they’re scared of enacting the people’s will (remember that statewide legalization initiative?), run against them in the next election. It’s not that hard. You can educate people along the way, and as we’ve seen in the last few years, it can upset the apple cart and get some wheels of progress in motion.
  • Petition drives are also effective. After all, it’s what got us here in the first place!
  • Talk with the owner of your local medical dispensary. Find out what’s keeping them from offering adult-use products. The state is basically giving these licenses away now in the townships that allow them. Aside from partitioning their operation in some fashion to divide medical from adult-use sales, it’s really not that much of a lift for them. The increased sales alone should make it very much worth it. Let the dispensary owner know there are citizens who will support them, publicly and vocally.

It took good old-fashioned organizing and people hitting the streets to get us here in the first place. It might take more of that to get us over the finish line in Michigan.

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Brandon Weber
Brandon Weber
Brandon Weber is an author, writer, and husband/dad living in Michigan. He also has a pretty high-traffic Facebook page, where progressive politics, labor unions, social justice, and cannabis are frequently discussed.
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