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The Grand Rapids Planning Commission made recommendations to the City Commission about potential regulations that would open Grand Rapids to the medical marijuana industry. The Grand Rapids Planning Commission made recommendations to the City Commission about potential regulations that would open Grand Rapids to the medical marijuana industry. PHOTO: NICK MANES

GR Planning Commission recommends opening city to medical marijuana industry

BY Friday, May 25, 2018 09:00am

GRAND RAPIDS — Planning commissioners in Grand Rapids on Thursday offered regulatory recommendations to bring the burgeoning medical marijuana industry to the city.

Under the recommendations offered by the Planning Commission, dispensaries would be allowed to operate in the city’s traditional business districts. The body also would allow more industrial uses tied to the marijuana industry —  including growing operations, transportation companies and marijuana testing labs — within certain areas of the city.

All recommendations still need to be reviewed and approved by the Grand Rapids City Commission, which would also include a public hearing.

To Suzanne Schulz, the city’s managing director of design and development, Thursday’s hearing was one of the first steps toward welcoming an industry that state and local governments are increasingly embracing, even while marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

“This is one step toward allowing for other types of uses other than just a caregiver within the city of Grand Rapids,” Schulz said. “I would not say it’s the end of the story. This is continually emerging.”

Members of the Planning Commission took objection to many of the ordinances as written, specifically some proposed buffers related to how far marijuana-related businesses could operate from residential areas and from one another.

Members of the body also opposed a proposed $5,000 license fee — the proceeds of which would go toward enforcement. Those fees were ultimately dropped from the Planning Commission’s recommendations.

“$5,000 to train police to potentially arrest more people who are legally medicating seems counter-intuitive to the whole (decriminalization) movement, to the whole bringing the black market to light and so forth,” said Planning Commissioner Darrel Ross, referring to the decision by Grand Rapids voters to decriminalize marijuana in 2013.

“It seems like Grand Rapids is putting an unnecessary burden from a fee standpoint,” Ross said. “It goes back to the same narrative of crime and everything is going to get worse, which we have absolutely no evidence of.”

Dispensaries would still be kept 1,000 feet from schools, child care centers and parks. Recommendations that would have kept medical marijuana businesses 1,000 feet from the borders of surrounding municipalities — which remain opposed to the marijuana industry,  Schulz said — also were dropped from the proposed ordinance.

The Planning Commission also dropped a measure that would have set a cap of 39 licenses for medical marijuana businesses.

Schultz told MiBiz following the meeting that the city would work on more models to determine the appropriate number of licenses.

Many advocates who spoke during the public comment portion of the Planning Commission meeting wanted the city to increase the number of available licenses.

Tami VandenBerg, an owner of two Grand Rapids bars, noted the limited number of licenses likely would result in the exclusion of minorities from launching new marijuana-related businesses.

“We have an incredible opportunity as a city here,” Vandenberg said during the public comment session.

VandenBerg is also a board member of MiLegalize, an organization working to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana in the state. That could happen as soon as this fall.

“It’s rare that a city has an opportunity to bring in so much business and so many jobs and so many opportunities for entrepreneurs,” VandenBerg said. “We’ve talked about this as a city, we care about equity, we care about our neighborhoods. We care about small business. If we really cared about those things, we’d be working very hard to make sure as many people as possible can access this opportunity.”

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