GREENVILLE — After more than two years since a request was made to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the city, the Greenville City Council voted to officially add some additional “green” to Greenville on Tuesday evening.
In reviewing five separate recommendations from the Greenville Planning Commission — three zoning ordinance amendments and two regulatory ordinances aimed primarily toward legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries — the council voted in favor of all five, thus legalizing such provisioning centers in the city.
However, adult-use marijuana retail establishments (dispensaries) will continue to be prohibited at this time, per the desire of the City Council.
The decision was a long time coming for Matt and Shawnee Bonner, owners of the Green Medicine Shop CBD (cannabidiol) store at 500 N. Lafayette St.
The Bonners first approached the council with a request the provisioning centers be allowed in the city in October 2019. Now 27 months later, they will be able to add that component.
The Bonners were in attendance Tuesday. They told the Daily News after the meeting they were excited by the decision.
“We did it, we did it,” Matt said. “We had a lot of folks tell us it would never happen, who tried to discourage us from doing it, but we didn’t stop. Here we are and we did it. It’s very overwhelming.”
Once the ordinances take effect, the Bonners said they will apply for licensing with the city to be able to expand into a provisioning center, which will require obtaining a special land use request from the Planning Commission.
If their request is approved, the Bonners, who have operated GMC since opening in February 2020, said they won’t have to change much in terms of their store layout and site plan.
“We’re keeping it very ‘homey’ — it’s not going to look like an Apple store — but it will still be very clean and professional,” Shawnee said. “We’re hoping it’s more comfortable than what you may find at some of the chains.”
Matt added that with Shawnee being a licensed pharmacist, he expects their business to stand out among others in the state.
The ordinances will permit the establishment of medical marijuana provisioning centers in Greenville — through approval of a special land use request — along with industrial processing, growing, transporter and compliance facilities for both medical and adult-use marijuana.
The ordinances shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the city within 10 days of adoption and shall be effective 15 days after its adoption, provided they have been published.
As the council never voted to opt into the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act that was passed in 2016, the first of the three ordinances amendments passed will remove that condition of prohibition and allow medical marijuana facilities to operate in the city, specific to new zoning requirements.
The additional two zoning ordinance amendments will create two new districts in the city in which various marijuana establishments can operate.
The first district is the North Lafayette District, which will aim to create business opportunities for the redevelopment of the M-91 corridor north of the Flat River by permitting medical marijuana provisioning center facilities.
Additionally, buffers within the North Lafayette District would be implemented, including medical marijuana provisioning centers to not be located within 200 feet of other medical marijuana provisioning centers and 1,000 feet from either schools or commercial daycare facilities.
The second district is the Industrial Park District, which would aim to provide a suitable location in the city (within the city’s industrial park) for a variety of industrial land uses, specific to medical and recreational processing facilities, growing operations, secure transport facilities and safety compliance facilities.
All three ordinance amendments passed in 6-1 votes, with Mayor Mark Lehman opposed.
City Manager George Bosanic stressed that the new zoning districts do not conflict or replace any of the current zoning districts already in place.
The two regulatory ordinances — one focused on medical marijuana, the other on adult-use marijuana — will allow law enforcement to enforce the city’s zoning laws, as well as regulate any medical marijuana facilities pursuant to the MMFL Act and adult use marijuana establishments pursuant to the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act.
The council voted 6-1 on the regulatory ordinance pertaining to medical marijuana, with Lehman opposed, and voted 5-2 on the regulatory ordinance pertaining to adult use marijuana, with Lehman and Councilman Jim Barrus opposed.
As Councilman Larry Moss was the one who spearheaded the original discussion following the request from the Bonners in 2019, he thanked them and others for exercising patience.
“The Planning Commission did do a lot of work on this,” Moss said. “I don’t have exact figures, but I would bet that we put in close to 20 hours, meeting time, going through this line by line so that we could present to the council a good product.”
In voting against all five recommendations, Lehman told the Daily News that while he doesn’t personally approve of the decisions, he supports the decision.
“However, I really think we didn’t take advantage of Eureka Township — they had already said no — and their position on this,” he said. “The township surrounds the city. Also, the fact is, you can get medical or recreational marijuana right now (delivered) with a phone call. So I just don’t feel the city of Greenville needed it.”
When the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act, which legalized adult-use dispensaries in Michigan, was approved by voters in 2018, it passed statewide, in Montcalm County and the city of Greenville; however, Eureka Township voted against it.
Statewide, the measure passed with 55.9% of the vote. In Montcalm County, it passed with 50.1% of the vote and in Greenville, it passed with 57.6% of the vote. In Eureka Township it failed with 48.4% of the vote.
Pleas for adult-use marijuana
Throughout the five public hearings, several people expressed their desire for the City Council to consider also legalizing adult-use marijuana dispensaries, which the council opted out of allowing in January 2019.
Greenville resident Kevin Carlson, who spoke during three of the five public hearings, felt the city was missing out on an opportunity, pointing to the cities of Cedar Springs, Lowell and Ionia — all of which have legalized the retail sale of adult use marijuana.
“You have an opportunity right here in front of you for a new business opportunity that has proven successful in surrounding communities,” he said. “All of those cities and municipalities have cannabis-distributing facilities, both adult and medical. They are doing quite well, and matter of fact, every time you go there, you’ll probably see customers there.”
Carlson said if the City Council wants to revitalize the north corridor on N. Lafayette Street, it needs to permit the sale of adult-use marijuana.
Attorney John Fraser, representing Green Medicine Shop pointed to tax revenue the city would be missing out on in the absence of medical marijuana retail stores. For the state’s 2020 fiscal year, each eligible municipality and county received around $28,000 for every licensed adult use retail store or micro business within its boundaries.
That tax incentive, however, does not apply to medical marijuana provisioning centers.
“I think that number is probably going to increase, and I know money isn’t everything, but if you’re going to have stores, there may be some opportunity for the city, too, to have some additional revenue coming in,” Fraser said. “If you had two or three of these businesses, and had an extra $100,000 or so coming in, you could do some nice things with that.”
Davie Uccello, co-owner of Flo’s Pizzeria Ristorante & Sports Bar in Greenville, expressed frustration as an owner of three marijuana establishments — two adult use marijuana retail stores in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo and one medical marijuana provisioning center in Muskegon.
“The ones in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids are both adult use and medical and they are doing great, but the one in Muskegon is just medical and it loses money month after month after month,” Uccello said. “My plea today is to allow the adult use retailers in Greenville. Don’t just pass the medical (ordinances). Add the retailer, add the adult use. If Cedar Springs, Lowell and Ionia allow adult use retailers, and those dispensaries deliver to Greenville right now, why are we not going to allow adult use? Why are we not going to accept (the tax revenue) per adult use store, to be able to rebuild our community, our historic downtown on N. Lafayette? Why not allow that?”
In responding, Councilwoman Jeanne Cunliffe said at this time, the council is taking “baby steps” regarding the marijuana industry in the city.
While the City Council has made no indication of if or when they will move forward on legalizing the sale of adult-use marijuana retailers, Moss asked city attorney Thomas Forshee what that process might look like moving forward.
“We’d have to visit both ordinances (zoning and regulatory) and we would just have to make sure we are good with the spacing and zoning, but it’s possible,” Forshee answered. “I think it would be more tweaking it and then making sure it all works together. You have to go in and make the small changes, and while a lot of the legwork is done now, it would just be a matter of authorizing that use and making sure it fits in the zoning ordinance. I don’t think there would be a huge (amount of work) on that.”
Forshee added that such a decision would require that the Planning Commission draft additional ordinance amendments.
In November 2020, the discussion on medical marijuana by the council moved forward after the council voted 6-1, with Lehman opposed, on a motion by Moss to “proceed and consider a medical marijuana ordinance.” However, following that vote, Moss motioned again, that time to “proceed and consider a recreational (adult use) marijuana ordinance,” but that motion received no support and thus died on the floor.
The council has not indicated since Moss’ motion more than a year ago that it plans to move forward on adult use marijuana.