Michigan looks to right past on marijuana by targeting communities once negatively affected

Posted at 11:01 AM, Jul 18, 2019

(WXYZ) — The state of Michigan is rolling out a social equity program for what’s expected to be a booming recreational marijuana industry. It’s essentially the state’s push to “do right” by communities negatively impacted by marijuana arrests and incarcerations, as directed by a lesser known portion of Michigan’s recreational marijuana law passed in 2018.

The program, according to the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) Director Andrew Brisbo, will target 19 communities — seven of them located in metro Detroit, including Detroit, Ecorse, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Pontiac, River Rouge and Ypsilanti.

The plan is to promote and encourage participation in the legal marijuana industry to locals who’ve lived in the 19 targeted communities for at least five years.

The help will include reduced fees for the application fee, the initial license fee, and future renewable fees. Education will also be offered for everything from business procedures to tax information and environmental rules for those interested in the industry.

“This is going to be an evolution,” said Brisbo. “When we go to some of these communities for the first time we’re going to present some baseline information. We hope the participants continue to come back and we can grow their base of knowledge.”

It’s not certain the new plan will be a slam dunk. Barton Morris, an active voice that helped pass the 2018 marijuana legislature, told 7 Action News he was anticipating that people who had demonstrated that they were disproportionately impacted by past marijuana laws would get some sort of priority when it came to licensing.

“If that’s not there how do those people get an advantage,” asked Morris. “Their mandate is to look at individuals. It seems like they’ll only do so by identified geographic area. That may be a shortcoming.”

The plan, according to the MRA, hits their mandated goals -- a release from the agency highlights the legislation language as "a plan to promote and encourage participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement and to positively impact those communities."

Morris noted that there's a number of things within the social equity plan that he liked, adding that there are part of the education components that he doesn't think a lot of advocates had even thought of. The MRA held listening sessions and took in hundreds of comments before ultimately crafting the plans put forth this morning.

Brisbo expects his team of five people to begin working within the affected communities in August, with the policy kicking into gear in November.

The goal within the agency is to ensure that 50-percent of the owners of marijuana-related businesses licenses to be awarded to social equity participants. They also aim to ensure that 60-percent of the social equity participants that do achieve licensed status within the 19 communities, remain in operation five years later — a statistic that would be above the rate of average small businesses.

It’s unknown how many businesses would need to be opened by residents of the social equity program communities in order to hit the MRA’s metrics, because it’s unknown how many recreational marijuana businesses will open.

That said, Brisbo noted some stakeholders in the medical marijuana industry that plan to expand into the recreational arm of the industry later this year would likely count towards their statistics.

The 19 communities were picked based on two criteria: marijuana-related conviction and poverty rate.