Changes keep coming for marijuana in Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Things keep changing when it comes to the marijuana industry in Grand Rapids.

As the city is poised to see its first medical marijuana dispensary open, the state is making changes to the rules regarding the recreational marijuana market.

The state says it will start issuing recreational marijuana licenses as soon as November and it has made other changes that will make it less costly for small entrepreneurs to carve out a piece of the multi-million-dollar industry.

“The challenge here is that there is so much money, they will do crazy things,” said Suzanne Schulz, the city planner who has been at the forefront of figuring out how Grand Rapids will regulate the marijuana industry after city leaders decided to opt in. “The demand is huge and there is a lot of money to be made, the estimate from one industry person was $1 million a month for a dispensary.”

The complicated system developed to allow businesses to get approval has worked and has been widely praised for its attempt to be fair and comprehensive.

“The amount of city resources going into making the marijuana industry work in this city is a lot, and you think about what else you could do with those resources,” Schulz said.

The planning department has treated it like alcohol and tried to anticipate issues and problems.

Officials tried to create the fairest system they could that gave preference to people with the capital to run the businesses and who were local.

“What’s crazy about this industry is they’re always trying to figure out how to game the system. These are people who are not used to living with rules and don’t want to live with rules,” Schulz said.

They expect a “Chick-fil-A effect,” which means the first business to open will have a huge impact that will lessen as more come along and normalize the industry.

For the first two years of legal recreational marijuana, only medical marijuana centers will be able to sell recreational marijuana.

Tami VandenBerg owns businesses in Grand Rapids and has been a leader in advocating for legal marijuana businesses in Grand Rapids.

Vandenberg says Grand Rapids has done a good job of managing the market, but problems still exist.

The market is dominated by non-residents with deep pockets who will not have the best interests of the community, she said.

“I did not understand the magnitude of cash,” VandenBerg said. “I desperately, desperately want to see more local ownership in these licenses.”

This week the state allowed for more relaxed rules for recreational marijuana businesses, including small shops that would be limited to 150 plants, act like a kind of micro-brewery for marijuana and essentially marijuana lounges, where people could gather to smoke and share kind of like cigar bars.

“Over time, I firmly believe this is just going to be another use just like a party store or a restaurant or whatever it is,” Schulz said.

City commissioners will have to deal with the issue by Nov. 1, but they could delay when they allow licenses in the city.

That means it might be well beyond November before a recreational marijuana business opens here.

“Whenever I start to get agitated about things moving too slowly or too many barriers or big players coming in and snatching up too many licenses, I say ‘pinch myself, you’re talking about opening up a business, a dispensary in Grand Rapids,’” VandenBerg said.

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