Published in Economic Development
The Grand Rapids City Commission approved a resolution that fast tracks current medical cannabis companies to also add recreational products. The Grand Rapids City Commission approved a resolution that fast tracks current medical cannabis companies to also add recreational products. COURTESY PHOTO

Grand Rapids to fast track recreational cannabis businesses ahead of schedule

BY Wednesday, July 08, 2020 07:35am

GRAND RAPIDS — Existing medical cannabis businesses in Grand Rapids can apply months ahead of schedule for licenses to grow, process, transport and sell recreational marijuana. 

The Grand Rapids City Commission voted unanimously July 7 on a resolution that fast tracks current medical cannabis growers, processors, safety compliance facilities, secure transporters and provisioning centers’ ability to operate in the adult-use side of the cannabis industry. The process will prioritize businesses that participate in a voluntary social equity policy the commission also approved during its July 7 meeting.

Non-retail cannabis businesses will be able to submit an application to operate for recreational purposes starting July 20, and can be approved administratively.

The recreational retail side has more restrictions but has been moved up a couple of months ahead of the initial Oct. 20 date the city was scheduled to accept adult-use applications. Current applicants approved for medical provisioning centers will be able to apply in late August at the earliest for a license to sell recreational cannabis. Current medical provisioning centers that received a sensitive land use waiver will not be able to participate in the fast track process. 

Unlike non-retail businesses, dispensaries looking to add recreational marijuana sales will have to apply for special land use through the planning commission, which involves a public hearing. The exception to this is for sites under 500 square feet in industrial zoned districts, which could be processed administratively.

The Cannabis Social Equity Policy establishes a point system to administer equitable policies to address historic systemic and institutional injustices connected to cannabis that disproportionately affect communities of color. 

The ranking criteria takes into account a range of practices, including: applicants hiring a diverse workforce, encouraging the use of diverse suppliers, having at least 25 percent of local ownership, or if an applicant has a cannabis conviction or suffered economic harm because of cannabis-related infractions.

The point system ranks applicants and will determine the order they will be reviewed for adult-use licensing. Applicants that score in the lowest tier of the ranking system will be reviewed for recreational licensing in October 2020.

According to the social equity plan, there is a short time period to be considered in the fast track program. Applications submitted after July 31, 2020 will be reviewed after all applications in the queue have been reviewed and processed, but not before Nov. 1, 2020. 

“We have been talking well over a year on how to embed social equity into the cannabis industry, and I think this plan does a great job of that,” said Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss.

As of mid-June, the city had approved 20 applicants for special land use waivers to allow for medical marijuana provisioning centers, and the city had made its way through the queue of applicants applying for medical provisioning center licenses. Any future applicants for medical cannabis businesses will have to wait until Oct. 20 to apply to operate in the adult-use realm. 

The number of opportunities for new retail cannabis space in the city are limited based on current zoning, said Grand Rapids Planning Director Kristin Turkelson.

“There are really only four locations left that could support new standalone (cannabis) retailers,” Turkelson said. “The number of opportunities are really limited.”

Medical provisioning centers were not originally included in the resolution’s list of cannabis businesses that could be a part of the fast-track program until First Ward Commissioner Jon O’Connor initiated an amendment last month to include them. 

O’Connor and others have said the sale of recreational cannabis will create additional tax revenue during a time when local municipalities — Grand Rapids included — are strapped for cash. The city is not able to collect excise tax from the sale of medical marijuana, only recreational products.

The city commission is scheduled to discuss other outstanding issues relating to recreational cannabis and the social equity plan on July 21. 

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