GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — On Friday, Evart became the town closest to Grand Rapids where you can buy recreational marijuana.

John Kline was one of a few hundred people who made their way to the town east of Reed City, home to about 1,900 people, to buy the first recreational marijuana available in Michigan outside of the Ann Arbor area.

He waited in line for more than two hours. Was it worth it?

“I’ll find out when I get home,” Kline said with a laugh. “I thought … Lansing, Detroit all around that area, even Mt. Pleasant, I figured it’d be over there before it would be here — yet here we are, one of the first ones.”

Lit Provisioning Centers along US-10 had already been operating in Evart as a medical marijuana center and would usually see about 10 people a day. Recreational marijuana changed that in a big way.

Doug Hellyar is the president of the company that owns Lit Provisioning, which is based in Troy even though the main business is in Evart.

“I’ve been in business for over 30 years and I haven’t come across any this challenging, but it’s exciting, I love it,” Hellyar said, talking about how pleased he was with Friday’s turnout.

Outside the shop, tents furnished with heat and snacks were set up for those who would be standing in line for at least a couple hours. While there is a lot of excitement, a lot of people did not want to be shown on camera, suggesting the stigma remains.

lit provisioning centers evart
People wait in a heated tent outside Lit Provisioning Centers in Evart to buy recreational marijuana. (Dec. 6, 2019)

Among the customers was Ed DeBoer, who spent several years in prison for possession of a lot of weed.

“It ruined my life a couple times because I went to prison for it,” DeBoer said.

He said buying it legally is worth it even though the price in a store is 25% to 50% higher than the black market.

“Here, it’s real expensive, I can get it way cheaper off the streets, but it’s just the thought of it,” DeBoer said. “Just the struggle of getting here all these years.”

Quietly, for the last couple of years, city leaders in Evert have been ahead of most of the state in allowing medical marijuana. Now it is the first place outside the Ann Arbor area to allow recreational sales — this in a town that rejected the 2018 ballot proposal to legalize recreational use by a vote of 253 to 241.

The president of Lit Provisionary said working with Evart has been a breeze.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, in terms of support, they’ve been a 12,” Hellyar said. “There really hasn’t been any resistance, on the contrary; that’s why we’re continuing to invest more.”

For 18 months, Lit has been a medical provisionary. It has a 48,000-square-foot grow nearby that employees 50 people and provides 12,000 plants worth of product. That operation will triple in size next year.

Deborah Knowles, who owns the Sixth & Main Bar and Grill, said she welcomes the increased activity based on what she has seen so far.

“They’ve been great, their employees come in here all the time and eat,” Knowles said. “I have had people come in and tell me specifically that the only reason they came here was because they came here for Lit.”

There are those who are not all in, including June Essner, owner of the Juneberry Cottage sewing shop, who says she is not seeing any benefit from the long lines at Lit.

“It doesn’t bring anything. They go, they get their stuff, they leave and hopefully they don’t leave after they’ve stopped in the parking lot for a few minutes,” said Esser, who also worries about crime and increased access to children, among other things. “And then the smell of it, actually.”

But overall, people who News 8 approached at various businesses along the main strip of Evart seemed to be supportive, saying the town needs the boost.

“They shared the vision from the beginning and they see the future and we continue to go hand-in-hand together,” Hellyar said.

Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo are moving cautiously on recreational marijuana businesses. They won’t have rules in place until at least summer 2020. Muskegon should start allowing sales soon.