Photos show the early days of Detroit’s medical marijuana industry — before the crackdown


Michigan voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana in 2008, and within a few years, dispensaries started cropping up all over Detroit — reaching a peak of nearly 300. Photographer Dave Jordano knew he had to act fast. "My sense was this new social experiment wasn't going to last long, so for three months, I documented nearly 100 shops knowing that if I didn't document them quickly, there would be no chance of capturing an era in Detroit’s history that came to an end just as quickly as it began," Jordano says.

With a low barrier for entry at the time, many of the stores were owned by low-income African Americans, opened in previously abandoned storefronts or closed fast-food restaurants. "With names like The House of Dank, The Grass Station, Cloud 9 Relief, Mary Jane Wellness Center, Rasta Remedies, and Puff Detroit, these shops clearly had closer ties referenced to the 1960s’ psychedelic drug era than to a legitimate medical facility," Jordano says. "With wonderfully eccentric and creative executions, the visual appearance of these businesses ran the gamut from looking like hippie head shops to storefronts mostly adorned with harsh LED lights that lit up the street with a green glow at night, and the green cross trademark that became the identifying logo for the majority of establishments."

The city soon started cracking down, passing restrictions on how many dispensaries could be in the city and where they could be located, and many were raided for purported "illegal" activity. Jordan estimates that 90% of the stores were forced to close within the next 18 months. After eliminating hundreds of small Black-owned businesses, there are now far fewer medical marijuana provisioning centers, mostly owned by wealthy white entrepreneurs. "These photographs are a document to that brief grassroots movement, and the struggle between social change and civic municipal oversight," Jordano says.

You can view more of the photos on Jordano's website.

Photos by Dave Jordano