Monday, 25 March 2019 14:33

Potshots: April 2019

Written by  Andy Balaskovitz
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 A monthly roundup of marijuana news and notes.

Let the (lottery) games begin: After months of careful deliberation from Grand Rapids officials, the state’s second largest city is about to wade into the marijuana licensing process. After finalizing local regulations, the city has received 90 applications from prospective businesses — 83 of which were for dispensaries, Revue’s sister publication MiBiz reported in March. The high volume triggers an April 12 lottery to see which applicants can receive licenses. A city official guessed Grand Rapids could approve as many as 40 dispensaries and eight growers. 

It’s a long time coming for West Michigan pot advocates who had to practically beg city officials to even consider allowing businesses, as MiBiz first reported in January 2018 (more than five years after Grand Rapids residents voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana).

Among the applicants is Tami VandenBerg,  local activist and co-owner of The Meanwhile and Pyramid Scheme. She applied with her brother, Jeff VandenBerg, and outspoken cannabis attorney Jeffrey Hank to open a dispensary on South Division Avenue. VandenBerg is also a leader of the newly formed West Michigan Cannabis Guild, which has been organizing like-minded entrepreneurs around small-business ownership in a field of increasingly large, out-of-state investors. The group holds monthly meetings in Grand Rapids.

In her first few months in office, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has been making good on promises made to marijuana advocates during her campaign. On March 1, Whitmer announced she was abolishing the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board, a panel appointed by former Gov. Rick Snyder that was often criticized for acting slowly and arbitrarily on approving licenses. Whitmer’s move — which was praised by leading advocacy groups and Attorney General Dana Nessel — would house administrative duties within a newly created Marijuana Regulatory Agency.

Meanwhile, Michigan Advance reported in March that Whitmer has started examining the potential for expunging criminal convictions for certain past pot-related offenses. Expungement is a key issue not just for pot reformers but most criminal justice advocates, who say minority communities have disproportionately suffered from the nation’s harsh marijuana laws. With weed being legal, they shouldn’t continue suffering, supporters say. Nessel as well as some legislators have also begun looking at the expungement process.

Speaking of the Legislature, another attempt is afoot to amend portions of Prop 1, which voters approved in November 56-44 percent. Former Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhofof West Michigan tried and failed late last year to gut key provisions of the initiative. The latest attempt is more nuanced, drawing some early support from minority groups and at least one House Democrat, the Detroit Free Press reports. The plan would make gifting recreational marijuana illegal, eliminate the medical marijuana caregiver system, allow medical provisioning centers to immediately begin selling to recreational customers, and allow unlicensed dispensaries to operate through the end of the year, among other provisions. 

Supporters — which include various companies with ties to the industry — say the effort is an attempt to “accelerate the market” and satisfy concerned municipalities. Prop 1 organizers aren’t buying it. That includes state Sen. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, who worked on the legalization campaign. Irwin told the Free Press the plan is a backdoor attempt to create more space for large, out-of-state investors, and that Prop 1 should be given time to work. As with Meekhof’s plan, this latest one may also be moot: Several key provisions would require a three-quarters supermajority vote of the Legislature.

Amid the flurry of business activity around marijuana (see the Michigan Cannabis Chefs story in this issue), let’s not forget the burgeoning market for CBD, cannabidiol, which contains trace levels of THC in cannabis plants. Some advocates tout the health benefits of CBD without the “high.” A certain West Michigan brewery appears to be getting in on the action, WOOD-TV reports. An official with Founders Brewing Co. says he’s “really excited” about piloting a CBD beer program that would infuse the product in suds. But of course, we’re already aware of the health benefits of beer.

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