Grand Rapids may join cities across Michigan in offering medical marijuana facilities for patients.
The Grand Rapids Planning Commission approved the proposed ordinance that will give the city commission an opportunity to decide whether to include the initiative on the November ballot.
The city commission will be holding a meeting June 12 to decide whether to set a public hearing.
The group Smart & Safe GR started in April, petitioning the city to opt in to Michigan's Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act. The act would allow the city to have public medical marijuana dispensaries.
“A lot of cities and municipalities have already opted into this, but in Grand Rapids, we still have not,” said Michael Tuffelmire, one of the organizers of Smart & Safe GR. “We are the second-largest city, and we still haven’t had that conversation. The (MMFLA) would allow us to have the facilities here in Grand Rapids.”
Tuffelmire said joining the MMFLA would offer economic and manufacturing benefits because the medical marijuana market would be regulated, yet competitive in the city. He said facilities would be forced to lower their prices to meet the demand of patients, and dispensary owners would grow the plant at a faster pace.
But before looking to the future, Suzanne Schultz, managing director of design and development for the city of Grand Rapids, said if it were to continue to move forward in the political process, there will need to be a serious discussion about zoning after observing other cities.
Currently, there are no limitations on the number of medical marijuana facilities in the ordinance, which will create an issue with city zoning, she said.
If the city commission proceeds with the proposal, Schultz said she would like to see the city start slowly with the number of dispensaries that would be available to the public.
“We would try to avoid a large concentration of uses in any one location because this is a new industry and having too much of a good thing may not be such a good thing,” Schultz said. “We need to be aware that these businesses are cash-only businesses that can pay more rent than our current retailers in our revitalizing business district.
“We have a lot of business districts in Grand Rapids that are kind of coming back, and we are getting mixed uses of bars and restaurants, new shops and we don’t want to see that overrun by any one single use, and in this case, it would be marijuana dispensaries.”
She pointed out officials in Wyoming, Walker and Kentwood oppose the idea of having medical marijuana dispensaries in their cities.
As a result, Schultz said patients will be coming to Grand Rapids from outside the city, which would allow the city of Grand Rapids to become a regional source of access to medical marijuana.
Another issue that arises with public dispensaries is the odor of marijuana, which Schultz claims in some cases has caused a decrease in property values.
Although Smart & Safe GR has overcome one barrier, it still is petitioning residents of Grand Rapids to get enough signatures to strengthen its cause.
“For many years, cannabis has been (described) as this very dangerous drug,” Tuffelmire said. “So, it can be a big ask to add a substance to a city legally for manufacturing and distribution, but I think there are members of our city commission who are in favor of the idea.”