Published in Food/Agribusiness
Mike Franzak, left, Muskegon planning director; Keith Van Beek, right, Holland city manager Mike Franzak, left, Muskegon planning director; Keith Van Beek, right, Holland city manager COURTESY PHOTOS

POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Lakeshore cities take divergent approach to marijuana business opportunities

BY Sunday, July 21, 2019 07:40pm

Officials in Muskegon and Holland say they’re responding to voters as they take disparate approaches to medical marijuana businesses.

RELATED: CHALLENGING THE SYSTEM: Michigan’s marijuana industry evolves along with attitudes, regulations

Whereas Muskegon recently welcomed its first provisioning center — and expects more — in a marijuana-specific overlay district, Holland officials have not allowed for medical marijuana businesses (although it is considered a home occupation under the city’s zoning ordinance).

As the state finalizes rules for potential recreational marijuana businesses, Muskegon will consider a similar approach to opt in while Holland has acted decisively to keep them out. 

MiBiz spoke separately with Muskegon Planning Director Mike Franzak and Holland City Manager Keith Van Beek about what’s driving the respective policies. Both officials cite similar reasoning: the will of the voters.

Why have you chosen your approach to medical marijuana businesses in your city?

VAN BEEK: I think our community has been supportive of the City Council taking the two stances they have (rejecting medical and recreational facilities). But we’ve certainly had some people — a lot of them from outside of the community — who have wanted us to take a look at that. One thing the Council looked at was when the (2018) proposal was on the ballot, the citizens of Holland did not vote in favor of recreational marijuana. (Holland voters rejected adult-use recreational marijuana 49 percent to 51 percent.)

FRANZAK: It was something the City Commission deliberated on for a while last year. Ultimately, we wanted to give voters access to their medicine because they so overwhelmingly voted for it. The staff’s idea was to present an under-invested area to help bring up, and I think it’s worked out great so far. We’ve approved over 20 licenses for growing and dispensing. We’re not sure if they will all come to fruition, but it looks like a couple are on the verge of opening. Those that have done the work have put in a lot of investment in properties — fixing up blight outside, adding landscaping. It’s been pretty beneficial to the city so far. (Muskegon voters passed adult-use recreational marijuana 67 percent to 33 percent.)

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The Business of Cannabis

Michigan citizens have twice voted in favor of relaxing statewide rules on marijuana. The latest vote in November 2018 legalized marijuana for adult recreational use, a move that has the potential to unlock a new growth industry for the state. This three-part series will offer a pragmatic examination of the promised “green rush” and the risks and rewards businesses face in the fledgling industry.

Part 1: JULY 22 — Michigan’s approach to legalizing cannabis has left the industry operating in a precarious gray market in which companies remain exposed to political and prosecutorial whims. 

Part 2: AUG. 5 — The supply chain for Michigan’s cannabis industry is emerging as the sector gains a regulatory framework and more legal certainty. 

Part 3: AUG. 19 — Society has come a long way since the days of “Reefer Madness,” but questions remain about the effects legal marijuana will really have on Michigan.

What’s the potential for regulating recreational marijuana businesses?

VAN BEEK: While it may be reviewed in the future, there has been no call by Council members to look at that. We’re staying put.

FRANZAK: We haven’t made a decision on recreational. We’re probably going to hash that out at our August work session. The discussion over the past couple of months has been about whether we want to opt in or opt out of recreational. It appears it may be a pretty close vote. We’re not sure yet, but I anticipate it would be something similar to our medical ordinance if it does move forward: a small geographic area with a lot of investment to improve properties. We really want to target the hardest-hit buildings in our current overlay district.

What do you see as potential drawbacks of not allowing marijuana businesses in Holland?

VAN BEEK: I’m not going to speculate on that. Right now, it’s just the decision of opting in and opting out, and at this point that’s where the city stands. (The Holland City Council unanimously voted to opt out of recreational marijuana rules on Dec. 5, 2018, a month after the measure passed statewide.)

Many West Michigan communities have chosen to not allow medical and recreational marijuana businesses. Does Muskegon feel like a bit of an outlier?

FRANZAK: I think it’s still too early to tell what every community’s going to do (on recreational). But if it follows medical, then yes, we’re going to be one of the outliers in the county. But there’s still a lot of time to opt in or opt out (of recreational). The state just issued emergency rules, so everyone is just kind of scrambling now to determine what they’ll do.

Do you continue to hear opposition about Muskegon’s approach to allow these businesses?

FRANZAK: There was some pushback from some in the business community initially for medical marijuana, but ultimately I think they just wanted their concerns to be heard. It was a tough choice for some of the commissioners to make. In the end, I think they wanted to side with the voters who voted for medical marijuana.

What are the next steps as the state finalizes rules for recreational marijuana licenses?

VAN BEEK: I’m not having any of my elected representatives saying we want that in our community.

FRANZAK: We’re still taking applications for medical licenses. We’re going to let the market play out and determine how many there are going to be in that overlay district. The next step is to consider a recreational ordinance and whether we opt in. Hopefully we’ll get some direction from the city in August or September on whether to propose an ordinance.

Read 2714 times Last modified on Wednesday, 24 July 2019 14:43