Chris Webber Scales Back $175 Million Detroit Cannabis Plan as Market Sours

This story was republished with permission from Crain’s Detroit and written by Dustin Walsh

Chris Webber’s planned $175 million marijuana development in Detroit remains unfinished in southwest Detroit nearly two years since it was announced.

The NBA Hall-of-Famer and University of Michigan Fab 5 basketball star had planned an industry training complex, a 180,000-square-foot cultivation site, consumption lounge and dispensary at 2599 22nd Street south of Michigan Avenue. Webber’s Players Only broke ground on the site in September 2021 and originally planned to finish the first phase of the build-out in March 2022.

But market conditions that sank marijuana prices by more than 56% between breaking ground and now have kept Webber from advancing on the project. He said the company still has plans but is scaling them back.

“The cannabis industry has really shifted in Michigan,” Webber told Crain’s. “Since the landscape has changed, we’ve had to adjust because we would not be smart to go with that plan.”

Webber said prices remain too low in the state to follow through on planned investment.

“Where do the prices settle? The bottom of the ocean?” Webber said. “I am from Detroit and I love the city, the environment and the people. But this would not be the best time for the community or us in Detroit to have a profitable outcome.”

Webber mentioned that companies that invested big in the state suffered from the price crunch, and he worried the $175 million investment would sink Players Only.

It’s a reality that has been playing out for cannabis companies across the state. Many are under the control of a receiver after running afoul of lenders and tax payments. The largest example is Dimondale-based Skymint, which entered receivership in March after being sued by an investor for more than $127 million. Skymint has since downsized and will be auctioned off as early as next month.

But Webber said his company has no plans to abandon the Detroit site and will still develop it, likely with a smaller footprint.

“We’re not going to abandon that space and we think the new plan will invigorate the community,” the former NBA star said. “But there will be adjustments. The numbers aren’t the same.”

Webber would not comment further on the new plans, citing the previous announcement that did not materialize.

“We have a lot of plans we’re excited about, but we’re not ready to share,” he said. “Given the excitement of the last announcement, we’re being a little more cautious.”

The original plan involved a training center that would offer training and placement as well as programs for getting criminal records expunged and GED certification. In 2021, Webber partnered with California cannabis brand Cookies to launch Cookies University in Northern California.

Players Only also had a distribution deal with Gage Cannabis, now owned by Canadian public cannabis company TerrAscend Corp. Gage operates Cookies-branded stores in Michigan.

For Webber and Players Only to complete the Detroit project, the company will need to secure a Detroit license to open a dispensary on the property. The city of Detroit said it will start accepting applications for the second round of its limited marijuana businesses on Aug. 1.

The city is authorizing only 60 licenses for marijuana retailers, half of which are relegated to “legacy Detroiters” who have lived in the city for 15 of the last 30 years. It’s unclear if Webber maintains a residence in the city.

The city offers unlimited licensure for grow operations.

Webber, however, believes a dispensary license will not be difficult to secure.

“There are a lot of options for a license, like having a licensed partner,” Webber said. “We don’t have a license because we can’t acquire a license. This isn’t a problem, and we’re excited for this labor of love.”

Webber has been involved in getting in the equity space of the brimming marijuana industry as well.

Webber, who owns a cannabis and CBD health company called Webber Wellness, launched a $100 million cannabis private equity fund in 2021 for businesses owned by people of color with Jason Wild, a healthcare investor and president of New York-based JW Asset Management LLC. The Webber Wild Impact Fund is investing with the goal of addressing equity barriers: White people have gotten the vast majority of cannabis dollars in the relatively new industry across the country.

Webber was also placed in charge of New York’s social equity fund and after severe delays closed on raising $150 million late last month.

It’s unclear whether the new plan for the property in southwest Detroit will feature new equity partnerships.

Dustin Walsh

Dustin Walsh is a senior reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, covering health care with a focus on industry change and operations, as well as the state's emerging cannabis industry. He is also a regular columnist on all things health, labor, economics, and more.

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