GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When it comes to medical marijuana, Grand Rapids city leaders have decided to opt out of the state’s program for now. But a group of local citizens hopes that voters will override the city commission and allow the marijuana industry to find a home in Grand Rapids.
In 2016, the state legislature created a framework that would allow municipalities to legally participate in a business that voters approved nearly a decade ago. But in the last year, only a fraction have opted in. The voters in Grand Rapids decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana five years ago, but the city commission voted against opting in to the state program for medical marijuana earlier this year.
A group of attorneys, business owners, veterans and medical marijuana advocates hope to change that with a ballot initiative in November.
“The city’s just not going to be allowed to say absolutely not after the voters have said absolutely yes,” Tami VandenBerg, a business owner and activist who previously lost a bid for city commission, said.
The group emphasizes the need for accessibility for Grand Rapids residents who now travel to Lansing or farther to get the medical marijuana legally.
“This disproportionately, again, affects people of color and it affects the disabled,” VandenBerg said. “I was also talking to a veteran who was in a wheelchair and again having to go get a ride in a handicapped-accessible van to Lansing. This is ridiculous.”
She said the proposal is patterned after the same ordinance in Ann Arbor.
“We’re not looking for cannabis on every corner, next to schools, next to churches. We want to be smart,” VandenBerg said.
She is joined by David Overholt, who became the face of medical marijuana in Grand Rapids in March 2013 when his dispensary was raided by police. He later pleaded guilty no contest to delivery and possession.
“I took 90 mg of OxyContin a day. That would kill anybody here that took them. And I did it for over seven years and I’ve been free for over 11 years,” Overholt said.
He said his belief that marijuana helped him kick his addiction led him to try to get the proposal on the ballot.
“We believe marijuana actually helps many, many ailments in the human body and at the end of the day, we believe in science,” Overholt said. “If I didn’t do this, then I’m part of the problem and that’s why I’m here today.”
Crockery Township, a rural community of less than 4,000, quietly adopted an ordinance in allowing for two medical marijuana dispensaries, two grow operations, a testing facility and a transportation operation. The township was already home to a so-called marijuana provisioning center.
“We’re here in the middle of Ottawa County saying let’s allow a new industry to get a little bit of a foothold,” said Crockery Township Supervisor Leon Stille, who was previously a state representative and senator. “We feel like we want to crawl before we walk and we may never run. We’re looking at it as a very measured approach.”
He said the township, which has an annual budget of less than $500,000, will collect taxes from any of the businesses as well as a $5,000 annual fee from each one.
“It makes sense to accommodate that commercial entity or industrial entity since the state has made it legal,” Stille said.
The township board voted unanimously in December to adopt the ordinance.
“We’ve not had one person come to a meeting and say, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Actually, we’ve had maybe a half a dozen come in to voice support,” Stille said.
The Grand Rapids group believes it will be helped by a likely statewide ballot initiative calling for the legalization of recreational marijuana.
The group plans to gather about 10,000 signatures starting with a kickoff event at noon Thursday at Calder Plaza downtown.