Signature Associates

We're sorry, but our site is built to take advantage of the latest web technologies that Internet Explorer 8 and below simply can't offer. Please take this opportunity to upgrade to a modern browser, like Google Chrome or Internet Explorer 11.

Contact Us


Marijuana businesses bring new life to old Monroe outlet site

Posted By: Detroit News on April 30, 2024.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

Take exit 11 off Interstate 75 onto Laplaisance Road to enter what some locals call “cannabis city” or “Marijuana Charter Township.”

There, 18 marijuana businesses are open in and around a pair of once-bustling outlet malls that have come back to life as a hub of cannabis retailers with such names as King of Budz, Nirvana, Exclusive and House of Dank.

The former Monroe Factory Shops, earlier known as the Horizon Outlet Center, and the Monroe Premier Shops next door had their heyday in the 1990s, drawing hordes of bargain hunters from Detroit and Toledo looking for brand-name shoes, clothing and other goods from brands such as Nike and the Gap at cut-rate prices. But a gradual decline in shopper interest meant that by the mid-2010s, all of the outlets were gone.

As the COVID-19 pandemic eased, cannabis businesses started to move into the township, including the plazas, where visitors seek to toke up instead of dress up.

“In 2018, when the state put that (marijuana legalization) on the ballot, our township was like 57% in favor … so it showed that our township had an interest in opting in,” supervisor Alan Barron said. “We had no idea there was going to be this many.”

While Monroe Township and the nearby city of Monroe combine for only about 35,000 residents, the area’s location off a heavily traveled expressway means big business for dispensary operators like Justin Ratledge, owner of King of Budz, which opened in the Horizon Outlet Center in 2022. Ratledge said the Laplaisance Road store has a higher volume than the company’s Detroit and Ferndale outlets, in part because of its proximity to Ohio, where legal recreational marijuana sales have yet to begin.

“We weren’t the first ones open, but we were the first ones that targeted that market,” Ratledge said. “It was a dilapidated building, and we saw opportunity that we could bring a change to the community there. That exit had been an eyesore for the township for many years.”

Ratledge, who is originally from North Carolina, says where he’s from, consuming weed is still illegal and frowned upon, but not in Monroe.

“Monroe is weed capital of the U.S.,” he said. “… It’s almost like the fast-food model. If you’re off an exit, it’s better for you to congregate just because your draw is going to be better than just one of us. I think it’s probably a benefit for all of the locations,” Ratledge said. “If you’re looking to go shop, especially as a first-time consumer, it’s nice to have plenty of options.”

However, he predicts that many retail shops in the industry may not survive long-term because they are “heavily regulated and heavily taxed.”

“You have to be a studious operator to make it. There are definitely companies in Monroe and across the state that will do well, and then there’s companies that will struggle,” he said.

Ratledge is expanding his business: King of Budz opened in New Buffalo this month, along with URB Cannabis.

Cannabis industry staff say the southwest Michigan city is the next weed hub as it opens doors for consumers from Indiana and Chicago.

Fiscal benefits

The new marijuana businesses are paying off for Monroe Township and Monroe County. In 2023, the township received $945,381 in licensing fees from the state for the 16 retailers within its borders, while the county received $1.06 million for the 18 licensed businesses, including those in the township.

For perspective, Monroe Charter Township received $570,253 in marijuana fee revenue from the state in 2022, about a 66% jump from year to year.

The township’s marijuana revenue accounts for a significant chunk of its budget, set at $5.1 million for fiscal year 2024. The township’s general fund budget for fiscal year 2023 was $4.2 million.

Barron said the marijuana fee funds go into the township’s general fund and are used for expenses such as road repairs, expanding the township hall and improving playgrounds and parks.

Other businesses want to get in on the township’s economic gains, too. “People are calling our zoning enforcement officer in community development every day. There’s been interest in a gas station and a coffee shop … a lot of interest,” he said.

Because the state shares marijuana licensing fees with municipalities based on the number of businesses they host, the opening of more dispensaries in Monroe Charter Township meant more revenue for municipal services. However, in June 2023, the township board passed an ordinance barring any new marijuana businesses, citing concerns from residents about the number of dispensaries.

“People still have a stigma about marijuana: long-haired hippie freaks,” Barron said.

Barron, who has lived in the township since 1978 and served as supervisor since 1992, remembers when the Horizon Outlet Center and the next-door Monroe Premier Plaza were connected as “Manufacturers’ Mall” and “packed all the time.” There were 54 stores in the two shopping centers, according to the township. A hot dog stand used to sit where the Nirvana cannabis company operates in the Monroe Factory Shops.

“We’ve talked to a few of the locals and they said back in the early 2000s, late ’90s this place was like the place to be,” said Shannon Leija, corporate inventory general manger of House of Dank.

Nirvana is next to King of Budz in the Monroe Factory Shops, and Exclusive, Puff Cannabis and House of Dank are in the former Monroe Premier Plaza.

With the concentration of marijuana businesses, “it’s almost like a tourist destination … you have people from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, the bordering states that want to see what it’s all about,” Leija said. “In Tennessee, they don’t have marijuana so it’s very different for them to come up here. You have parents bringing their kids in here for their 21st birthday. Instead of going to the bar, they’re coming here, so it’s interesting to see how it’s changed.

“I think just having this many dispensaries opening up, it’s really created less of a taboo around marijuana. You see people in the city that have never been around marijuana but they’re like ‘it’s now in my city, I want to see it.’ And seeing that you can consume marijuana outside of just smoking, you can get topicals for your pain, it’s not just about getting high,” Leija said.

The dispensaries at the Monroe Factory Shops drew huge crowds on April 20 — marijuana culture’s unofficial holiday, 4/20 — including the House of Dank.

While the hundreds of people lined up outside the shop that day were more than usual, store manager Zee Yamani said the dispensary is always busy.

“It’s very fast-paced. There was a couple dispensaries already established before we got started over here and then there were a few afterwards that were established after we were,” she said. “Everything’s moved so quick, which is part of the excitement, part of the fun.

“All of these places being up here, I think it helps open opportunities for a bunch of other businesses, other industries to bring this area back to life too,” Yamani said. “I see down the street a couple restaurants are being put up, and I feel like it’ll help everyone in general, not just the marijuana industry.”

« Back to Insights