Street Talk: Looking out for local


The Grand Rapids Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Jan. 23 regarding the city’s recreational cannabis ordinance, and the West Michigan Cannabis Guild is urging the public to step forward and speak out against the concentration of licenses to out-of-area businesses.

Tami VandenBerg, co-chair of the West Michigan Cannabis Guild, has long been an advocate for using the emerging adult-use industry to generate wealth for Grand Rapids residents and ensuring local entrepreneurs can take advantage of marijuana licensing.

“On the street, they’re saying these licenses are going to be worth $1 (million) to $3 million and think of all the people who have been here for 20 or 30 years who have built this place or have been harmed by the drug wars,” VandenBerg said. “They (licenses) go to giant corporate conglomerates, people that have never lived here.”

The West Michigan Cannabis Guild submitted a letter in September 2019 expressing disappointment in the concentration of licenses in the hands of companies existing outside of West Michigan.

“These medical marijuana facilities will provide job opportunities, improved access to medical marijuana and breathe new life into long-vacant buildings, yet the Grand Rapids licensing process has been a huge missed opportunity for creating wealth for Grand Rapidians who have made Grand Rapids the vital city it is today,” the guild said.

To keep wealth in the hands of residents, the guild proposed the following amendments to the ordinance.

  • No more than three licenses should be issued to the same business, or “true party of interest.”
  • Reduce the residential setback requirement to 1,000 or 500 feet to open up more parcels and neighborhoods to marijuana businesses.
  • Implement a robust social equity program to begin to help repair the harms to communities most affected by prohibition and the war on drugs, including reduced application fees, access to low-interest loans, free technical assistance and more.
  • Opening private, adult-only and well-ventilated “consumption lounges” within the city to reduce the use of marijuana in public spaces.

The West Michigan Cannabis Guild was formed in late 2018 and is made up of over 100 individuals, businesses, activists and advocates. Many of the guild’s members are involved in cannabis policy reform including Decriminalize GR, Safe and Smart GR, and MILegalize/Vote Yes on Proposal One Campaign.

The public hearing on Grand Rapids’ recreational marijuana ordinance will begin at 1 p.m. in the city development center, 1120 Monroe Ave. NW.

Trafficking stop

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, in partnership with the American Hotel & Lodging Association, is taking action to fight human trafficking.

Throughout National Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January, the MRLA is providing resources and tools to its members to ensure every employee in the hospitality industry is trained on the issue.

According to Polaris, a nonprofit that works to combat and prevent modern-day slavery and human trafficking, approximately 40 million men, women and children worldwide are impacted by human trafficking.

Trafficking networks often rely on legitimate businesses, including those in the hospitality industry, to sustain their illicit and illegal operations. As a result, hoteliers are uniquely positioned to identify and disrupt the practice.

According to the AHLA, “employee training has played an instrumental role in identifying, reporting and stopping instances of human trafficking.”

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to train every employee in the hospitality industry and end human trafficking,” said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of MRLA. “To combat this horrific act, we provide resources to our members so their employees — more than 595,000 people working in the hospitality industry in Michigan — are trained on how to identify and report suspected trafficking situations.”

The No Room for Trafficking member resource guide details an action plan, including training staff on what to look for and how to respond; displaying human trafficking indicator signage; establishing a companywide policy; ongoing coordination with law enforcement; and sharing success stories and best practices.

Another resource available to members is an anti-trafficking hotel checklist developed by ECPAT-USA. The checklist provides action steps for management and associates to recognize the warning signs, remain diligent and aware, and take action by contacting law enforcement.

For more information and resources, visit

Head games

The Brain Injury Association of Michigan launched Think aHEAD, a yearlong statewide campaign encouraging children and teens to wear helmets while participating in recreational sports.

The Think aHEAD campaign is aimed to increase helmet usage, prevent brain injuries and save lives. The initiative will work to break down the “misguided perception that it is ‘not cool’ to wear a helmet” while participating in sports that do not regulate helmet use, such as skiing, snowboarding, biking, roller skating, horseback riding or skateboarding.

To kick off the campaign, the BIAMI is partnering with ski resorts across the state to increase helmet use among skiers and snowboarders. Participating ski resorts in West Michigan include Cannonsburg, Caberfae Peaks and others.

Children and teens seen wearing helmets by ski patrol at the participating resorts will be rewarded with a coupon for a free hot chocolate from McDonald's, courtesy of the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association. Those without helmets will be given a coupon for a 20% discount on a ski or snowboarding helmet at one of more than 25 participating retailers located across the state.

“We are using positive reinforcement to encourage helmet use by incentivizing kids and teens to protect their most valuable possession — their brains — by choosing to wear a helmet,” said BIAMI President and CEO Thomas Constand.

During warmer seasons, the BIAMI will enlist police officers, firefighters and others from across the state to award those wearing helmets during recreational sports such as bicycling, skateboarding, roller skating and rollerblading, among others.

According to a 2012 Johns Hopkins-led study, approximately 10 million Americans ski or snowboard each year with approximately 600,000 injuries reported annually. Of these, 20% are brain injuries, which mostly occur among skiers and snowboarders.

In a 2016 study by the American Journal of Surgery that tracked 6,257 patients suffering a bicycling injury, 52% sustained a traumatic brain injury, or TBI. The same journal found that helmet use provides protection against severe TBI, reduces facial fractures and saves lives even after sustaining an intracranial hemorrhage. According to the Snell Memorial Foundation, medical costs associated with unhelmeted bicyclists are approximately $3.2 billion annually.

“There is a negative stigma that it isn’t cool to wear a helmet, especially during recreational sports,” said Brooke Brewer, a former professional snowboarder who survived a traumatic brain injury during Olympic training because she was wearing a helmet. “Being smart enough to wear a helmet saved my life, and I’m overjoyed that the Think aHEAD campaign will spread the importance of helmet usage and save the lives of others, too.”

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