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Exploring Grand Haven's medical marijuana options

Alexander Sinn • Jun 13, 2019 at 1:00 PM

What kinds of medical marijuana establishments belong in Grand Haven, and where should they go?

The Grand Haven Planning Commission is tasked with answering these questions in the coming months, after the City Council in April voted 3-2 to create an ordinance permitting the industry.

Under Michigan law, municipalities can “opt in” on five distinct types of businesses: provisioning centers, processors, growers, secure transporters and safety compliance facilities. Each license comes with specific state rules, and the city’s Planning Commission will consider which existing zoning districts are appropriate for these new businesses. Federal law requires a buffer zone around public schools, but the commission can consider other buffers for facilities such as day cares.

On Tuesday, planning commissioners weighed in on the five types of establishments and possible locations where they could fit within the city.

Provisioning centers

Provisioning centers may have the widest range in the new ordinance. The majority of commissioners voiced support for allowing these facilities, which are authorized to purchase or transfer marijuana only from growers or processors, and permitted to transfer and sell to registered patients.

This use matches up most closely with retail in the city’s Zoning Ordinance, while Commissioner Bill Ellingboe said pharmacies could also be a guidance. Commissioner Ryan Cummins agreed the establishments may be beyond the scope of retail, as some facilities could take the shape of wellness centers with medical professionals on staff.

City resident Jamie Cooper, who owns a marijuana industry consulting business, told the commission that provisioning centers shouldn’t be placed downtown due to the lack of parking. Some on the commission said the downtown shouldn’t be ruled out as a legitimate zone.

Commissioners agreed not to place dispensaries within residential zones, but will consider allowing them in key street zones as special use permits, which are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. There are six zones where retail is currently permitted.

On Wednesday morning, city leaders visited a provisioning center in Muskegon operated by AgriMed, LLC, to get a firsthand look at the industry. Aaron Smith with AgriMed attended Tuesday’s meeting, explaining the high cost and the difficulty in doing business in the industry. 

Processors

Licensed processors can purchase marijuana from a grower and sell marijuana-infused products to provisioning centers. These uses were likened to manufacturing, compounding or processing facilities, which are currently allowed in two city zones as special or permitted uses.

Processing facilities are abundant in Michigan, and Commissioner Steve Skodack shared concerns the market could become saturated.

Growers

Growers are typically allowed in industrial or agricultural zones, and in Grand Rapids are allowed in commercial zones if the operation is under 15,000 square feet. The city’s Zoning Ordinance excludes marijuana from its policies for greenhouses, Grand Haven Community Development Manager Jennifer Howland explained, but the rule could be amended.

Commissioner Mike Dora said state law requires high fencing to obscure public view from growing operations, while Cummins said odors from the pungent plants could be a concern for the public, as well.

Secure transporters

Secure transporters move both marijuana and money. While these operations are most similar to warehouses in the city’s ordinance, Skodack said they could also be viewed like a bank, due to potential high volumes of cash. Ellingboe agreed that potential security issues should be explored.

Smith said transporters use vans to move the products, and said high real estate values in Grand Haven may deter prospective businesses. He said some banks and credit unions will work with the industry, which has largely relied on cash due to the federal illegality of the marijuana business.

Safety compliance facilities

Smith said there are only four safety compliance facilities in Michigan. These operations perform numerous laboratory tests on marijuana products to determine compliance with state standards.

These facilities are similar to research and development, which is permitted in two city zones. Smith said these operations require significant overhead, including chemists and laboratory equipment, and may be in demand if the testing process slows down operators in the industry statewide.

Next steps

The commission will at its July meeting pin down more of the details on the state regulations for each business type, to determine if they would be allowed in the city at all.

“There is a very lengthy set of state requirements that go along with each one of these five types of things you may want to pursue,” Dora said. “You may find that some of them don’t fit in areas where we may want to put them.”

Commissioner Tim Deiters said all uses should remain on the table. “If we’re going to do something, I think the avenue is to have all five,” he said.

Cummins said he hopes residents attend meetings and engage during the Planning Commission process.

“The public feedback is going to be extremely important,” he said. “There are a lot of different thoughts and views on this issue. We have to get that feedback.”

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