City moves forward on cannabis zoning

‘Fast track’ and deliberative approaches are part of the strategy.
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The city of Grand Rapids is moving ahead with some immediate cannabis zoning issues while giving commissioners time to further examine matters surrounding social equity in business development.

The city commission recently adopted a resolution setting July 7 as the date to consider amendments to the zoning ordinance that would allow medical or recreational marijuana growers, processors, secure transporters and safety compliance facilities to grow, process, transport or test cannabis products.

The amendments are centered on requirements and the review process for recreational cannabis uses, and refinement of provisions regarding medical uses.

After a heated discussion during the Feb. 25 city commission meeting about the timing and effect of proceeding with additional medical and recreational cannabis business approvals, the city commission declined to set a public hearing on a proposed zoning ordinance amendment that had been recommended by the Grand Rapids Planning Commission for recreational cannabis businesses, according to an earlier Business Journal report.

The city commission also expressed a need for the city to be more intentional about a social equity program for cannabis, beyond what was accomplished by the Marijuana Industry Voluntary Equitable Development Agreement.

The city commission then amended the cannabis licensing ordinance to extend the date to begin accepting license applications for all cannabis-related facilities to Oct. 20.

Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong said this was to allow the city commission additional time to be more intentional about social equity related to cannabis licensing.

There are two parts to the proposal: a “fast-track” approach and a deliberative approach, he said.

The fast-track approach is an effort to advance a zoning amendment by July 7 for certain non-retail recreational uses, but only includes recommendations where the city commission may be unified in its approach. 

Specifically, the fast-track zoning amendment would address the following:

  • Allow medical or recreational growers, processors, secure transporters and safety compliance facilities to grow, process, transport, or test marijuana products. The amendment would allow new recreational marijuana facilities and the conversion of existing medical facilities to recreational.
  • Allow for administrative review of these facility types (growers, processors, secure transporters, and safety compliance facilities). Growers and processors are currently Special Land Uses. However, any new co-located medical provisioning center would require Special Land Use approval and be subject to the required sensitive use separation distances.
  • Preserve all current separation distance requirements for growers and processors (neither secure transporters nor safety compliance facilities have, or are proposed to have, separation distance requirements).
  • Preserve current waiver requirements.
  • The proposed fast-track amendment would not allow the conversion of existing provisioning centers to recreational retailers or allow new recreational retailers.

DeLong said the fast-track approach will allow the city to move forward with a zoning amendment and free up time to work on deliberative, more complex items like retail use.

“The chief work is to have a plan that achieves social equity outcomes in a framework that meets all the statutory requirements that are present here in Michigan,” DeLong said.

Based on the Feb. 25 committee of the whole discussion, the deliberative approach is expected to address issues like allowing the conversion of existing medical provisioning centers to recreational retailers and permitting designated consumption establishments.

City Manager Mark Washington also created a staff work group — the Cannabis Justice Work Group — in March that has developed a social equity policy that will accompany marijuana licensing and land use regulations.

Ciarra Adkins, administrative analyst at the city’s office of diversity and inclusion, said the group was deliberate in using the term “cannabis” in social equity work, because of the historical use of the term “marijuana” to stigmatize brown and black communities.

“You will see us use the term cannabis, which is the scientific name for the plant, and it has been used in social equity programs across the nation to remove the historical stigma and negative connotations that is typically associated with the word ‘marijuana,’” Adkins said.

The goals of the CJWG are as follows:

  • Establish social equity expectations and voluntary commitments for applicants for all recreational cannabis license types
  • Utilize strategies that enhance the growth and development of local, small and emerging businesses
  • Foster supplier diversity
  • Reduced barriers of entry into the cannabis industry
  • Increased opportunities within Neighborhoods of Focus
  • Address low-hanging fruit now and more complex elements by October 2020

To achieve these goals, the CJWG issued the following recommendations to the city commission:

  • Adopting a cannabis social equity policy to guide implementation and outcomes
  • Creating a new nonprofit to help achieve social equity outcomes
  • Adopting a licensing framework to implement social equity outcomes, assign priority for zoning and licensing consideration, and establish renewal criteria
  • Adopting fast-track zoning ordinance amendments to allow medical and recreational growers, processors, safety compliance and secure transporters via administrative review first in the near term
  • Adopting subsequent zoning ordinance amendments for implementation by Oct. 20 for recreational retailers, microbusinesses and other cannabis uses as part of the deliberative approach
  • Rescinding city commission Policy 900-57 regarding park waivers and relying on planning commission determinations for parks
  • Adopting subsequent zoning ordinance amendments by Oct. 20 to address separation distances, waivers and sensitive uses and waivers as part of the deliberative approach

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