Jan 13, 2023 - News

FOIA Friday: Who's winning and who's losing in recreational cannabis

Illustration of a manila folder opening like a door.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

The city has not released the names of the businesses that were turned down for recreational pot retail licenses.

The latest: Detroit awarded 33 licenses last month for dispensaries to start selling nonmedical cannabis after a long-delayed process to set up and implement local rules.

Why it matters: There are limited retail licenses available, and Detroit delayed its rollout process in part to work to make its business owner landscape equitable. So seeing who gets these coveted licenses and who doesn't is a crucial part of monitoring an industry that's worth $2 billion statewide, according to the analytics firm Headset.

Flashback: We submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the 90 applications businesses turned in, but the city turned us down, citing a statewide rule stating information a cannabis business applicant sends in is exempt from FOIA.

Between the lines: While we can't see their full applications, local marijuana office director Kim James told Axios in a statement before the licenses were awarded that the city did plan to "share the full list of successful and unsuccessful applicants with their score based on their application."

However, since then, Detroit has only publicly released application reference numbers for unsuccessful applicants — not the businesses' actual names.

  • "We are not releasing applicant information because (state law) protects this info from disclosure," James said in a later statement regarding unsuccessful applicants.

Yes, but: There is precedent for sharing names and addresses for denials. The Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency does so in its weekly licensing reports for state-level licenses, which are necessary to operate but separate from city licenses.

The big picture: This was the first of three planned application rounds, so there's still chances for more businesses to apply. When the next round opens is to be determined.

  • And while applicants who lost out can apply again for both equity and nonequity licenses, assessing how well the equity program works for the people it's targeting (like longtime Detroiters and those affected by the war on drugs) is impossible without knowing the identity of the whole body of applicants.

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