Published in Economic Development
The Refinery, a medical marijuana provisioning center in Kalamazoo, planned to begin selling recreational products on July 3. Unlike with medical cannabis, taxes from recreational marijuana products go to local communities. The Refinery, a medical marijuana provisioning center in Kalamazoo, planned to begin selling recreational products on July 3. Unlike with medical cannabis, taxes from recreational marijuana products go to local communities. COURTESY PHOTO

‘Certainly a demand:’ GR considers fast-tracking recreational cannabis as sector grows elsewhere in West Michigan

BY Sunday, July 05, 2020 02:11pm

The Grand Rapids City Commission is expected to vote July 7 on a plan that could allow retail recreational cannabis sales months ahead of schedule, and put the city on track with a growing number of communities allowing the industry to flourish.

The commission advanced a resolution on June 16 to allow existing medical cannabis businesses to apply for a recreational license. The proposal was initially limited to growers, processors, safety compliance facilities and secure transporters. First Ward Commissioner Jon O’Connor, who has consistently advocated for the retail sale of recreational cannabis in the city, initiated an amendment last month to include provisioning centers. 

“There is certainly a demand,” O’Connor said during the meeting. “I know there are (recreational retail) operators outside of Grand Rapids that have the ability to deliver here. Those are tax dollars that are not being spent in our community.”

Dispensaries have increased delivery service during the pandemic, but that’s also due to the fact that not all communities are allowing recreational stores, said Robin Schneider, executive director of the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association

“It’s very important that all adult cannabis consumers have safe access to recreational cannabis that is safe, clean and tested,” Schneider said. “The more licensed growth we have, the better it is for the consumer because they have more variety to choose from and the price tends to drop.”

O’Connor told MiBiz in June that the purpose behind fast-tracking businesses from medical to recreational is to jumpstart additional tax revenue during the pandemic. The city is able to collect excise tax dollars only from recreational cannabis businesses, not medical.

If the resolution passes, it would likely allow for the sale of recreational cannabis several months sooner than expected. In March, commissioners voted 5-2 to delay recreational applications for six months until Oct. 20.

As of mid-June, the city had approved 20 applicants for special land use waivers to allow for medical marijuana provisioning centers, said Kristin Bennet, transportation planning and programs supervisor for the city of Grand Rapids.

Bennet said if medical dispensaries are approved on July 7 for the fast track program, then only the 20 approved applicants for medical dispensaries will be able to apply for a special land use waiver to start selling recreational marijuana. This includes the four medical dispensaries that are currently operating in Grand Rapids.

The city has made it through the queue of applicants applying for a medical provisioning center license, Bennet said. Qualifying properties in the city that could host a provisioning center are dwindling, she added, but any future applicants would have to wait until Oct. 20 to apply for recreational sales as initially planned if the July 7 resolution passes. 

A Colorado firm recently opened Terrapin Care Station, a 35,000-square-foot medical marijuana production facility in Grand Rapids. The new business is not a dispensary, but would be able to supply both recreational and medical cannabis to retailers if commissioners OK the resolution on July 7. 

Terrapin spokesperson Peter Marcus previously told MiBiz that opening a provisioning center in Grand Rapids is not the company’s priority, but it could be pursued if an opportunity arose.

The city is still working out other details related to zoning requirements and promoting equity in the commercial cannabis space. The Cannabis Justice Work Group was formed in February by Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington to develop a comprehensive social equity policy that will accompany licensing and land use regulations.

Growth elsewhere

As Grand Rapids debates its next steps forward, recreational retail stores are operating in several communities across West and Southwest Michigan.

“West Michigan traditionally has been slow to get on board with adult-use cannabis sales, and we have recently seen them moving forward and embracing their adult-use program and we’re pleased to see that,” Schneider said.

Lowell was the first city in Kent County to allow recreational cannabis sales earlier this year, and Cedar Springs became the second on June 11. Med’s Cafe provisioning center in Lowell is the closest recreational dispensary to Grand Rapids, with all other recreational retail businesses located at least 30 miles from downtown.

Elsewhere, recreational dispensaries are operating in Battle Creek, Muskegon, Grant, White Cloud, Big Rapids, Douglas and Bangor.

Kalamazoo recently opted into recreational sales, with its first dispensary — Lume Cannabis Co. — operating since June 6. 

“Kalamazoo moving forward with their adult use program is a big deal,” Schneider said. “There are a lot of (medical) retail facilities already there and functioning, and them opting into adult use will help them add jobs and create tax revenue.”

That’s part of Tom Farrell’s goal at The Refinery medical provisioning center he co-owns in Kalamazoo. The dispensary was recently approved for its recreational license, and the plan is to start rolling out adult-use products starting July 3.

“Offering recreational should really pick up the speed of our business based on what I’ve seen from Lume,” Farrell said. “I think it’s going to be some growing pains to get used to but it should bring a lot more opportunities and business to the area. We’ll be able to reinvest into the community and do our part and grow as a company.”

The Refinery has been selling medical cannabis since December, and is locally owned and operated by Farrell and his father of the same name. 

“We keep the money we make in the economy in the local area,” Farrell said. “Any money we make or people we bring in we want to keep everything local. Some of the dispensaries that are chains do some of that, but I also see some hiring managers out of Grand Rapids and Detroit and people commuting back and forth.”

There is an opportunity for locally owned cannabis businesses to grow in Kalamazoo, especially with the sale of recreational now being permitted and being in a college town, Farrell said.

“A lot of these kids are graduating or leaving the area, but if we can give some of these opportunities to people here I think that’s a great opportunity to keep people in Kalamazoo,” he said.

Read 7266 times
SUBSCRIBE TO MIBIZ TODAY FOR WEST MICHIGAN’S FINEST BUSINESS NEWS REPORTING >