Marijuana licensing is delayed

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Grand Rapids is kicking the can down the road with marijuana licensing.

A recently passed ordinance amendment will defer the start date for accepting license applications until Oct. 20.

After a heated discussion during the Feb. 25 city commission meeting about the timing and effect of proceeding with additional medical and recreational marijuana 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 marijuana businesses.

Following the proposed public hearing, the amendments would have been considered for adoption on March 31, in time for April 20, 2020 — the date previously set by the “Marihuana Related Municipal Licensing Ordinance” adopted in 2019 — for the city clerk to begin accepting license applications for marijuana businesses.

But the proposal for a public hearing was voted down on Feb. 25, along with a proposal to set a six-month moratorium on marijuana applications. City staff argued it is now impossible to have the zoning ordinance amendments in place by April 20.

The amendment moving the start date to Oct. 20 passed by 5-2 vote, with commissioners Nathaniel Moody and Jon O’Connor voting “no.”

O’Connor argued changing the start date for licensing would put further economic burden on businesses and entrepreneurs trying to make an investment in the community via recreational marijuana.

“Businesses made a decision whether or not they’d probably pursue this and made financial commitments … based upon a timeline that we had all agreed to,” O’Connor said. “And in the 11th hour, I feel like we’re all Lucy pulling the football out from Charlie Brown.”

The amendment will not affect the status of medical marijuana special land use applications in the queue for consideration by the planning commission.

Medical marijuana businesses licensed by the state and approved as special land uses by the planning commission will be able to continue operating as medical marijuana establishments, as is the case under the existing ordinance.

City staff plan to develop a new licensing framework over the next six months, and adjusted zoning ordinance amendments will be introduced.

City Manager Mark Washington also created a cross-departmental work group for the purpose of developing recommendations to make Grand Rapids’ ordinances and processes related to medical and recreational marijuana more equitable and better understood by the community.

The work group includes City Attorney Anita Hitchcock, Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong, Acting Director of Equity and Engagement Stacy Stout, Acting Planning Director Kristin Turkelson, and staff from the city’s executive office, law department, equity and engagement, public oversight and accountability, planning, economic development and the development center.

In order to meet the proposed Oct. 20 date for the city clerk to begin accepting license applications for marijuana businesses, it will be necessary for policy development and future city commission agenda items to move forward according to the following timeline:

  • March-June — Continue land use and equity policy development

  • July 21 — Set public hearing for zoning ordinance and licensing ordinance amendments

  • Aug. 25 — Public hearing on proposed amendments

  • Sep. 15 — Consider proposed amendments for adoption

  • Oct. 20 — Effective date and begin accepting license applications

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