Hazel Park Is Setting a Standard for Marijuana Businesses

With the opening of Hot Box Social and other initiatives, the city is becoming one of the most weed-friendly communities in metro Detroit
hot box social hazel park cannabis
Hazel Park’s Hot Box Social is not your parents’ dark, wood-paneled basement. // Photograph courtesy of Hot Box Social

Hazel Park has long been a pot-friendly community. Heck, Tommy Chong in 2015 received a key to the city when stopping by BDT Smoke Shops during a visit to Michigan ahead of Ann Arbor’s Hash Bash.

Recreational marijuana became legal in the state in December 2019 — over 75 percent of Hazel Park residents voted in favor — and Hazel Park has continued to be on the forefront of Michigan cities to embrace it. From the dispensaries that now line John R to Hot Box Social (Michigan’s first cannabis consumption lounge, which opened for private events earlier this year), it’s been full speed ahead.

Hot Box Social is quite the novel concept. The space features two main rooms; one contains couches, lounge chairs, a few two-person tables with bar and island-table seating, and TVs lining the wall. It features a light pink and green aesthetic. No smoking is allowed in here.

In the other, which is about one-third of the size, it’s a little grungier; there are two couches, with chairs wrapping around the wall, Pac-Man and Galaga machines installed on one side, one TV, and some abstract art — this is the smoking room.

Hazel Park City Councilmember Luke Londo says there’s opportunity in the city.

“I hope that other business owners or potential business owners realize the potential of a pedestrian corridor in the middle of our community and pour their resources into creating businesses that we need, like additional restaurants,” Londo says. “I think they see things like Hot Box Social and recognize that there are opportunities for complementary businesses, and hopefully they will make the choice to invest in Hazel Park.”

There was some chatter as to whether the weed-friendly attitude had shifted — whether Hazel Park was worried about losing its family-friendly appeal — when the City Council and Mayor Michael Webb on April 12 struck down a permit (by a vote of 4-1) for Spark in the Park, a marijuana-centric music festival scheduled for June 18.

However, the event “was simply too large for the area infrastructure to support at this time,” says Alissa Sullivan, who was elected to the city council in 2017.

This type of consideration is appreciated by residents who don’t have strong feelings about cannabis either way.

hot box social
Hot Box Social provides a space for metro Detroiters to learn about and consume marijuana products. // Photograph courtesy of Hot Box Social

“If opening all these dispensaries, a lounge, and having marijuana festivals is what it takes for Hazel Park to really take off, I’m here for it,” says 28-year-old Adam Sneath, who’s lived in Hazel Park since 2020.

Some folks are also excited about what the windfall of tax revenue can provide for the city. “I’m hoping, in the next year or two, the money [Hazel Park] gets from the state can be used for city infrastructure — roads, parks, and some general cleanup and beautification projects,” says 46-year-old resident Josh Prentice.

It’s important to the cashflow here: A state revenue-sharing program outlined by the Marihuana Regulation Fund distributes tax revenue to cities on a per-dispensary/cannabis establishment basis.

Hazel Park, which is now home to eight dispensaries but received benefits for six in 2021 ($338,400), passed a resolution to apply that revenue to the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System, a state-mandated professional retirement services company that administers retirement plans for local governments.

MERS requires prepayment funding. If the city is unable to come up with the cash, every individual property owner in the city will be liable to having a levy assessed to their property.

“The reality is that if we didn’t have cannabis here to provide that funding, we would have to pull funding from other resources,” Sullivan says.

So while the money won’t necessarily go directly toward those cleanup projects, it’s still helping fill in the city’s revenue gaps that have prevented it from taking that next step as a community. As the economy continues to build on itself, the city is hopeful its growth will lead to even more investment from outside sources, garnering more grants.

What’s happening in Hazel Park is setting the standard for other communities.

“We were one of the first to pass a local ordinance, and a lot of businesses saw the opportunity to come here and set up shop in metro Detroit, with a significant consumer base,” Londo says. “I know multiple municipalities have reached out to our city administration asking for help crafting ordinances, which is really a testament to our leadership.”

And that’s about as community-minded as it gets, isn’t it?

This story is from the June 2022 issue of Hour Detroit. Read more our digital edition.