MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI – After the city of Muskegon agreed to provide grants and loans for people convicted under Michigan’s previous marijuana laws, Cory Roberts didn’t waste time in applying.
Roberts, who is part of a group working to establish a new marijuana dispensary, grow operation and consumption lounge in Muskegon, applied for a $5,000 business grant that is among several the city is offering.
“I’m thankful for what they’ve done so far,” Roberts said of city leaders, adding he thinks more can be done to assist those impacted by now-repealed marijuana laws.
More likely will be done as the city continues to receive from the state a portion of marijuana excise taxes. This year’s share to the city is $112,000. The city also is using $1,200 donated by a local marijuana business.
The city commission on Tuesday, June 22 finalized the city’s social equity program to assist those impacted by marijuana laws, mostly through conviction of “low-level” possession crimes.
Those with prior convictions can receive $5,000 scholarships for education or skills training; $5,000 business start-up grants for such costs as business plan development, architectural fees, and business training courses; up to $25,000 in interest-free business gap loans; and up to $10,000 in marijuana equipment grants for growing, business and other equipment installed in approved marijuana locations.
The loans and start-up grants are for any sort of business, which may or may not be in the marijuana industry.
“Not everybody’s passion is to pop into the pot business,” City Commissioner Michael Ramsey said during a discussion of the issue in April. “So, I think there’s a great opportunity there to extend this to those who just want to open a business in our town.”
In addition, people who meet the state’s qualifications to be a social equity applicant can receive up to $10,000 in a marijuana license grant that can be used to cover the cost of license fees. In those instances, the city’s $5,000 application fee would be waived.
“You have the convicted who have done time coming out and they do not have an equitable pathway to that business entrepreneurship in this industry,” Muskegon Planning Director Mike Franzak told commissioners. “I think we need to look at all types of avenues to make this social equity initiative work.”
To meet the state’s qualifications, an applicant must have lived in a community disproportionately impacted by marijuana laws – which includes Muskegon – for at least five cumulative years in the past 10 years; have a marijuana-related conviction; or be registered as a medical marijuana primary caregiver.
The city also will use the tax revenue to host marijuana conviction expungement clinics and to provide education and community outreach on responsible marijuana use.
Franzak predicted the city may have a hard time spending all the money the first year. Grants and loans, applications for which are available at the city’s planning department, will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
Roberts, who has closely followed the city’s discussions about its social equity program, believes he was first in line with an application for a business start-up grant. He said he’d use the money to pay an architect’s retainer fee.
He is a partner in Michigan Canna House, which is planning the new marijuana establishment at a former Sons of Norway Lodge at the corner of Harvey Street and Marquette Avenue in the city of Muskegon. Plans are for a retail shop and consumption lounge with food.
Plans also are for a grow house and a processing facility.
Canna House is the parent company of Michigan Cannabis Chefs, run by chefs Nigel Douglas and Roberts’ wife Lynette Roberts. While the company specializes in cannabis-infused fine dining, the food they will serve at the new Muskegon location won’t be infused, Roberts said.
The road to business entrepreneurship was a rocky one for Roberts, who told MLive he spent four years in prison for minor pot possession. While his initial conviction was for having less than an ounce of marijuana, subsequent probation violations related to pot use landed him in prison where he was busted for having a joint, Roberts said.
“We’ve been disadvantaged because of these laws,” Roberts said.
But individuals like him aren’t the only ones who were hurt, Roberts said. Children of those who were convicted also have faced struggles and should receive assistance, he said.
That’s something that was discussed by commissioners, who agreed to look into helping children in the future when they have additional funding for the social equity program.
“Cannabis prohibition we all know disproportionately affected people of color and low-income folks,” said Commissioner Ken Johnson. “So those children of the incarcerated also were negatively affected.”
Also on MLive