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Saturday, 07 July 2018 13:30

Proposed zoning offers scant potential for medical marijuana industry in Grand Rapids

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Proposed zoning offers scant potential for medical marijuana industry in Grand Rapids Wikipedia Commons

Grand Rapids officials contend they’re open to bringing the medical marijuana industry to the city, but the zoning proposed for businesses in the new sector seems to suggest otherwise. 

The proposed medical marijuana zoning code under consideration by the City Commission would limit the industry to only a handful of properties, many of which already have existing users or are vacant and undevelopable for a variety of reasons.

A document prepared by the city Planning Department and obtained by MiBiz outlines 208 addresses where medical marijuana businesses could locate if the City Commission votes to adopt the zoning recommendations. The sites include the location of an existing Wendy’s fast food restaurant on the city’s southeast side and the lawn of a dive bar tucked away in the northwest quadrant.

Prospective entrepreneurs and other advocates feel as though the city is offering the zoning code to “pay lip service” to the sector while effectively using it to keep the industry out.

It comes down to the basic principle of supply and demand. If the city limits the opportunities to so few viable parcels in the city, most local entrepreneurs and small businesses likely will be priced out of the market from the onset.

Jay Christopher Fleming, a Kalamazoobased entrepreneur who’s working with a group of investors to establish a local chain of medical marijuana retail outlets, feels the Planning Department’s recommendations — which are set for a public hearing at the City Commission’s July 10 meeting — would effectively reward established out-of-state companies, to the detriment of would-be small business owners like himself.

“We’re telling you, by doing the more restrictive model, you’re kicking us out,” Fleming told city planners at an early-July public meeting.

The more restrictive model Fleming mentioned refers to the City Commission moving forward on city staffers’ recommendations, not the more liberal regulations offered by the appointed Planning Commission. The latter proposal would have opened more real estate around the city to the medical marijuana industry.

“You’re kicking us out of the discussion and kicking us out of the industry,” Fleming said. “You’re making us wait … while these big national companies who already have a financial advantage will come and get their foothold and maximize their financial advantage. They’re going to take all of that money and how much do you really think will wind up back in this community?”

Because of existing regulations and a general hesitation on the part of landlords, most businesses looking to get into the medical marijuana industry will need to own their properties as opposed to lease them, according to sources.

Since many of the allowed sites under the proposed zoning ordinance are either not for sale or undevelopable, it’s hard to see how many small, locally-owned businesses could thrive in that environment.

Suzanne Schulz, the city’s managing director of design and development, contends the city is simply zoning as it would for any other industry and can’t control the real estate market.

The need for basic regulations is obvious. No one wants to see a whole block filled entirely with medical marijuana dispensaries — or pharmacies or convenience stores, or any single type of business for that matter.

But the city may want to reconsider its proposed restrictions if it wants to encourage more local startups and entrepreneurs to participate in the new business opportunity. After all, Grand Rapids is positioning itself to develop an “entrepreneurial ecosystem” with numerous public-private partnerships, as evidenced by the city’s use of SmartZone tax incremental financing and close work with organizations like Start Garden.

Like several other neighboring communities, Grand Rapids could simply opt out of the state’s new medical marijuana regulations and keep the industry out entirely.

But if it truly wants to open its borders to the medical marijuana industry — as the considerable time and resources it is spending on the issue suggests — then it shouldn’t impose limitations that would effectively curb the industry’s growth before it has a chance to get started.

Read 2615 times Last modified on Monday, 09 July 2018 13:24

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