Some municipalities in West Michigan soon will be eligible for marijuana-related resources that could impact the business community.
Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, Benton Harbor and Niles are among 19 communities that qualify for the Social Equity Program, which was established by the Marijuana Regulatory Agency.
The program is designed to provide residents who are disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement in those communities with discounts and mentorships to those who would like to participate in the marijuana industry.
The communities were selected based on their poverty rate and its marijuana conviction rate. According to the MRA, counties in which the total number of marijuana-related convictions exceeded the average marijuana-related conviction rate for the state were selected.
“The Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center provided us with 10 years of data for all Michigan counties,” said David Harns, spokesperson for Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. “The data reflected the total number of marijuana convictions, including possession, use and distribution, from Nov. 1, 2008, through Oct. 31, 2018.”
From that group, communities were selected in which 30% or more of the population lives below the federal poverty level, per the MRA.
Harns said the poverty level-related data was obtained from American FactFinder. It states 14.6% of individuals in the U.S. currently live below the poverty level; the percentage was derived through the American Community Survey’s five-year estimates.
“For further clarification on the poverty data, MSP assisted in mapping the poverty level percent data in ArcMap,” Harns said. “MSP helped create more accurate map layers to tie all of the listed municipalities together and broke the data down by city, village and CDP, which allowed us to create an overall data set of poverty level percent, as well as three more individualized data sets.”
The program affords business owners who have their establishments in the disproportionately affected communities eligibility to receive up to 60% off the application fee, the initial license fee and future renewal fees.
The MRA states the benefits will be calculated as follows for qualifying applicants:
25% reduction for those who have been a resident of one of the 19 disproportionally impacted communities for the past five years
An additional 25% reduction if the individual(s) holding majority ownership have been a resident of one of the 19 disproportionally impacted communities for the past five years and have a marijuana-related conviction
An additional 10% reduction if the individual(s) holding majority ownership have been a resident of one of the 19 disproportionally impacted communities for the past five years and were registered as primary caregivers for at least two years between 2008 and 2017
Dr. David Crocker along with his wife Annette Crocker are owners of Michigan Holistic Health Center, which has three locations — Battle Creek, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.
One of the surprising qualifications David Crocker said he noticed is individuals who were convicted of illegal marijuana use will be beneficiaries of the program.
“Having been convicted of a marijuana-related offense actually confers upon them a financial advantage,” he said. “I don’t think I have ever seen that in the history of law enforcement. I am for it, but it is extremely unusual for something like that to happen.”
Crocker, who sits on the state’s medical marijuana review panel, said across his three medical centers, he has 12,000 to 15,000 patients who come from all over the state, including Detroit, Traverse City and the Upper Peninsula. One of the services his clinics provide is medical exams that allow patients to apply for a medical marijuana license.
He has been practicing at his holistic center for about 10 years, and he said his patient population ranges from individuals who are financially stable to those who are not and depend on government assistance. He said a growing segment of his patient population is the elderly.
“If you look at them as a group, which I think is partly because of where we are located, there are a lot of people who are disabled for various reasons and that creates a lot of financial difficulties,” he said. “I would say our patient population is poorer than the average population. A lot of our patients live from paycheck to paycheck and a lot are completely dependent on Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare. Some of our patients have had bad work injuries and they can’t work anymore, but we do serve regular working-class people also. The Marijuana Regulatory Agency seems like they are very earnest about trying to get these disadvantaged folks involved.”
Residents in those communities who are interested in participating must apply to the program. The application process will begin Nov.1.
Until then, representatives from the Social Equity Program will provide educational sessions about the marijuana industry, including the adult-use application and licensing process, provide one-on-one assistance with completing the licensure application, and assist in identifying resources at other state agencies and in the private sector that applicants can use to answer questions, among other things.