Petition pushes Grand Rapids to allow medical marijuana dispensaries

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Ahead of the midterm elections in November, concerned residents are working to get a new medical marijuana initiative on the ballot.  The petition would push Grand Rapids to allow dispensaries in the city.

The policy change is a growing pain affecting cities statewide, but it has become a serious issue for many patients who say they can't easily access their medicine.

Nineteen months after a medical marijuana licensing and regulatory framework became Michigan law, many say patients in Grand Rapids still don't have easy access to it.

"They have to get in their vehicle if they have one, use what money they probably are living on a very fixed income, and use the gasoline if they have that money to then get themselves to a dispensary to then legally purchase their medicine that was licensed to them by the state. That doesn’t seem right," said Michael Tuffelmire, U.S. Army Veteran organizing with Smart & Safe GR.

Smart & Safe GR kicked off a campaign to get a proposal on November's ballot to require Grand Rapids to opt in to Michigan's Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act, which would allow and license medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.   They propose an ordinance to allow a sensible amount of dispensaries citywide and to regulate them similar to bars. Currently, LARA data shows at least 75 cities statewide have opted in.

Tami Vandenberg, owner of the Pyramid Scheme and The Meanwhile Bar, says this is not just about access to medicine, it's a revenue stream the city is missing out on to address other local issues.

"[The city is] missing out on taxes," Vandenberg said. "All of these folks, all of these employees, they would be kicking back into the fund, which could help us solve some of our other crises, you know housing, we have a lot of issues that we need funds for."

"To me it's just a no brainer to bring more money into people's pockets, into City Hall's pockets, so that we can address more of the issues that we want to address."

City Commissioner Jon O'Connor is an advocate who says he's experienced a disconnect at the city level and believes access to medical marijuana dispensaries also fights the opioid crisis.

"[The city has] been a leader in a number of fields and I think we just have an opportunity to do that well in Grand Rapids and provide people, patients the access to the medicine they need," O'Connor said. "We talk a lot at the city about how the opioid crisis is drastically impacting our communities... We're not helping the problem unless we're willing to help find alternative solutions that can work better."

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss responded to this issue and gave FOX 17 this statement:

"Grand Rapids residents have been able to grow medical marijuana in their homes since 2010 under our Home Occupation Class B license process and our process has served as a model for other cities. The specific issue related to allowing dispensaries is a more complex issue and we need to be extremely thoughtful in our approach. Other cities are grappling with this and it would be wise to learn from their experiences.

We need to do our due diligence to minimize unintended consequences to neighborhoods and neighborhood business districts.  Our recent conversations and concerns raised around liquor licenses illustrate the need to ensure that all voices are heard, especially residents and neighbors. We will continue to closely monitor this rapidly changing landscape and watch what is taking place in other cities."

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