GR Planning Commission recommends opening city to medical marijuana industry

GRAND RAPIDS — Planning commissioners in Grand Rapids on Thursday offered regulatory recommendations to bring the burgeoning medical marijuana industry to the city.

Under the recommendations offered by the Planning Commission, dispensaries would be allowed to operate in the city’s traditional business districts. The body also would allow more industrial uses tied to the marijuana industry —  including growing operations, transportation companies and marijuana testing labs — within certain areas of the city.

All recommendations still need to be reviewed and approved by the Grand Rapids City Commission, which would also include a public hearing.

To Suzanne Schulz, the city’s managing director of design and development, Thursday’s hearing was one of the first steps toward welcoming an industry that state and local governments are increasingly embracing, even while marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

“This is one step toward allowing for other types of uses other than just a caregiver within the city of Grand Rapids,” Schulz said. “I would not say it’s the end of the story. This is continually emerging.”

Members of the Planning Commission took objection to many of the ordinances as written, specifically some proposed buffers related to how far marijuana-related businesses could operate from residential areas and from one another.

Members of the body also opposed a proposed $5,000 license fee — the proceeds of which would go toward enforcement. Those fees were ultimately dropped from the Planning Commission’s recommendations.

“$5,000 to train police to potentially arrest more people who are legally medicating seems counter-intuitive to the whole (decriminalization) movement, to the whole bringing the black market to light and so forth,” said Planning Commissioner Darrel Ross, referring to the decision by Grand Rapids voters to decriminalize marijuana in 2013.

“It seems like Grand Rapids is putting an unnecessary burden from a fee standpoint,” Ross said.

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