Most GR medical pot applicants from out of town

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) —  Tami VandenBerg is a small business owner and longtime marijuana advocate in Grand Rapids. She could also be one of the first medical marijuana business owners in Grand Rapids under a new city ordinance.

She hopes to repurpose the old Electric Sound building on South Division Avenue.

“It’s been a wild ride,” VandenBerg joked Tuesday.

Between securing the property, applying for a land use permit with the city and applying for a license with the state, it has been a costly and timely endeavor.

“The city application was $5,000. The first part of the state application was $6,000,” VandenBerg said.

That’s not including other costs, like minimum capitalization required by the state, which runs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In July, Grand Rapids city commissioners passed a medical marijuana ordinance and amended it at the end of the year.

Last month, the city began accepting applications for what will be a lottery-style draw next week. It will determine the prospective business owners who will get the first hearing before the planning commission.

Despite offering incentives to local workers and resources, city planners say most of the 90 or so applications have come from people or businesses outside of Grand Rapids.

“There’s a lot of money coming out of the pockets of people that live here and have contributed to this community… that’s going to be pulled out and handed over to people from out of town,” VandenBerg said. 

The city requires applicants to be pre-qualified with the state, something that cuts who can realistically apply, VandenBerg said. 

The city also laid out specific zones where the businesses are allowed, ensuring they aren’t right next to each other. VandenBerg said property values have skyrocketed in those areas, which makes it costlier for start-ups.

“I think if you’re a full, free marketer, this is not the ordinance for you. And that’s based on public sentiment,” Landon Bartley, senior planner for the city of Grand Rapids, told 24 Hour News 8.

Bartley said most of the barriers that may hinder prospective applicants are outside of the city’s control.

“There’s only so much you can do to control an applicant, and who the applicant is. This is a land use permit only. We don’t have a license ordinance right now,” Bartley said.

How things play out is critical, as medical marijuana businesses will have an advantage if recreational sales come to Grand Rapids.

“As it (the medical marijuana ordinance) rolls out and as we see these uses appear, people will start to get more comfortable with it and maybe decide that this ordinance is or isn’t appropriate. If it isn’t, we’ll change it,” Bartley said.

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