After receiving Planning Commission approval in August, Fluresh LLC plans to turn a portion of the former Benteler Automotive plant in Grand Rapids into a marijuana growing facility and retail provisioning center. After receiving Planning Commission approval in August, Fluresh LLC plans to turn a portion of the former Benteler Automotive plant in Grand Rapids into a marijuana growing facility and retail provisioning center. COURTESY RENDERING

Grand Rapids positions to regulate recreational marijuana businesses

BY Sunday, September 29, 2019 05:00pm

GRAND RAPIDS — As it continues to make its way through the list of applications for medical marijuana facilities, the city of Grand Rapids will next consider how to handle recreational marijuana companies. 

City Commissioners will likely adopt an ordinance Oct. 8 that would allow the city to opt in and regulate businesses involved in recreational adult-use marijuana, said Landon Bartley, senior planner for the city. The move would come as the state begins accepting applications for adult-use licenses on Nov. 1. 

“The ordinance is built in a way that we have essentially six months from the effective date before we start accepting any kind of license types,” Bartley said. “It gives us time to have a public process, do public engagement and determine what makes sense as far as recreational — what does the community want, what will they support?”

While the Planning Commission’s experience setting rules and navigating through the permitting process for medical marijuana businesses serves as a benchmark, Bartley does not imagine the city will expedite the process for recreational marijuana businesses. 

“We have experience, but we’ve also heard from the public a little more concerns about recreational uses,” he said.

As the city decides its process for recreational marijuana businesses, marijuana advocates and medical marijuana business owners are eager to see how it will be regulated in Grand Rapids. The Planning Commission has already approved 11 medical marijuana businesses out of 93 applicants and expects to consider the remaining applications by early 2020. 

Also in early 2020, the Planning Commission will review a draft recreational marijuana ordinance that outlines the process for that side of the industry. Bartley said the city does not yet have concrete ideas on how the recreational application and approval process will work.

State-licensed medical marijuana businesses also will get first dibs on some types of state recreational marijuana licenses. 

Local advocacy

As they did with the city’s medical marijuana business ordinance, West Michigan marijuana advocates are pushing for more opportunities for local ownership in the industry. Most of the medical marijuana business applications submitted to the city came from Michigan companies, but not ones based in Grand Rapids or Kent County, according to the city.

The West Michigan Cannabis Guild sent a letter to Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, City Manager Mark Washington and the City Commission on Sept. 23 detailing its recommendations for the city’s recreational marijuana ordinance. 

“We have some ideas on how to do that that have been in play in other municipalities across the country,” said Chris Silva, a founding member of the Guild. “(The city) seems to be pretty open about it.” 

The Guild is disappointed in the concentration of licenses and applications from just a few companies. Most of the medical marijuana applications were made up of non-local companies that turned in multiple applications spanning multiple properties.

“These medical marijuana facilities will provide job opportunities, improved access to medical marijuana and breathe new life into long-vacant buildings, yet the Grand Rapids licensing process has been a huge missed opportunity for creating wealth for Grand Rapidians who have made Grand Rapids the vital city it is today,” the Guild wrote in the letter. 

The letter suggests that no more than three licenses should be issued to the same business as a way to “disrupt the corporate monopolies” dominating the medical marijuana applicant pool.

The city has not decided where it will allow recreational marijuana businesses. The Guild wants to see a reduction in the residential setback requirement to open more parcels to marijuana businesses as multiple city neighborhoods are zoned out entirely. To open new real estate, the Guild also suggests reducing the requirement of 2,000 feet of separation between provisioning centers.

Cannabis advocates have focused their discussion on issues around social equity. The city needs to get more local small businesses involved in the process, as well as people who have marijuana-related charges on their criminal records, Silva said.

The state has implemented a social equity program within its Regulation & Taxation of Marijuana Act (MRTMA). The Guild wants to see reduced application fees, access to low-interest loans or grants, free technical assistance, expungement of records and more.

MRTMA offers a variety of license types, including for consumption establishments where individuals over the age of 21 would be able to consume marijuana on site. The city can decide whether to allow these types of businesses, and the Guild is encouraging it to do so.

“Allowing private, adult-only, well-ventilated lounges for consumers of marijuana is a big win for both those who enjoy marijuana and also for those concerned with people consuming marijuana in public spaces,” the Guild wrote.

Making progress

As discussions continue regarding recreational marijuana business regulations, some approved medical marijuana companies have started to take shape. 

To open, Grand Rapids-based medical marijuana businesses approved by the Planning Commission need to go through construction permitting and obtain a certificate of occupancy from the city, as well as get licensed by the state. 

Terrapin Investment Fund III LLC, doing business in Grand Rapids as Terrapin Care Station, has been approved for a Class C growing and processing facility at 2055 Oak Industrial Drive NE, which formerly housed the nonprofit Kids Food Basket.

The Boulder, Colo.-based company is in its first phase of construction, replacing the roof and installing new HVAC systems, with the hope of finishing build-out and wrapping up state inspections in time to begin operations in April. 

The company currently has six stores, four growing operations and a processing lab in Colorado. It also runs a wholesale medical grower/processor in Pennsylvania. 

Peter Marcus, communications director for Terrapin Care Station, said the company also would like to bring recreational businesses to Grand Rapids. 

“When and if the city of Grand Rapids gets there, it’ll be something we will be interested in,” Marcus said. 

The state is allowing companies licensed for medical marijuana use to be the first to apply for recreational licenses. They can sell both types in one location, but their operations must be separate.

From Terrapin’s perspective, Grand Rapids is “an island of marijuana commerce” in West Michigan. The “restrictive” zoning can be an asset when it comes to companies in the medical or recreational marijuana industry. 

“We believe that restrictive zoning can be a good thing, in that it weeds out bad actors that leave a black mark on companies doing the right thing,” Marcus said.

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