GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids marijuana industry is experiencing more growing pains as a proposed medical marijuana dispensary is opposed.
The opposition is not from people who are against legal weed, but rather from those in the marijuana industry.
Approved Thursday by the Grand Rapids Planning Commission, the plan calls for medical marijuana provisioning centers at a current veterinary clinic on Plainfield Avenue NE north of I-96 and another on S. Division Avenue south of 28th Street.
It was proposed by Detroit area-based Green Skies-Healing Tree. The company has numerous applications for centers in Grand Rapids and was chosen first in the city’s lottery to present to the Planning Commission.
On Thursday, attorneys representing other prospective medical marijuana licensees presented the commission and the mayor’s office with 98 pages of records and allegations against the family of the man applying for site plan approval.
The name on the application is Victor Kattoula, an 84-year-old Sterling Heights resident. But his 42-year-old son Ammar Kattoula is referred to as the operations manager of the facility.
Several business connected to the Kattoula family are Blimpie and Subway outlets. Public records show numerous tax liens against those businesses and in 2015, Ammar Kattoula admitted to running an illegal gambling with 43 computer slot machines in a Roseville tanning salon.
David Overholt, a medical marijuana caretaker and longtime advocate, is not looking to open a dispensary but says he wants to see medical marijuana shops in Grand Rapids to be run by reputable actors, preferably locals.
“I’d like to see them (the Planning Commission) evaluate the circumstances of the evidence and make a decision based on the residents of Grand Rapids for their safety and for public welfare,” Overholt said.
There was a plan for people to show up and protest at the Planning Commission meeting but the one person who did show up with signs left before the meeting began.
Ammar Kattoula dismissed the concerns of the critics.
“They should check and see if what they’re saying is actually true. I actually deal with the state investigators on a daily basis for all our license locations. Those people, whoever they are, should go talk to the state,” Kattoula said.
The concerns never actually made into consideration by the commission.
“We don’t make judgements as a staff by any means on who the applicant is, in the case of medical marijuana we defer a lot of the vetting of the applicant to the state,” said Landon Bartley, a city Planner.
The vetting of any criminal records is done at the state level and Victor Kattoula was approved last year before the Lansing-based board that made those approvals before it was dissolved by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and replaced by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs earlier this year.
“I deal with the state on a daily basis and we’re going to go in here and we’re going make sure we get a yes vote from everybody,” Kattoula said before the meeting.
Representatives for Green Skies-Healing Tree laid out more than just a plan for building, parking and land use. The representatives promised they would not just run a medical marijuana business but would also provide economic benefits and other benefits to the areas where they sell marijuana. They said they will provide art, scholarships, social justice projects and affordable housing help in their neighbors.
“This is not just a dispensary coming in, this is dispensary being willing to invest in the community in which they serve,” said Darrell Ross, a former planning commissioner hired by Green Skies to help with their Grand Rapids developments.
The plan got good reviews from the neighborhood.
“I look at it as a both economic development and a community development,” said a resident of the Creston Neighborhood.
The Creston Neighborhood Association told the Planning Commission that Green Skies’ plan was the strongest they’d seen.
Every member of the commission approved the site plans.
While the action taken Thursday is about medical marijuana provisioning centers, the long game is about recreational marijuana shops, which could end up operating out of the same sites.