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The process behind recreational marijuana conditional authorization

Brice Tucker smokes a blunt Sept, 8 in his apartment living room.

Recreational marijuana is coming to Mount Pleasant after Lume Cannabis Co. and House of Fire Provisioning were issued conditional authorization Aug. 21.

The process to bring recreational marijuana to the city didn't happen overnight. It started in November 2018 when Michigan voters approved recreational use of marijuana. 

The bills passed by legislators allow individuals over 21 to purchase and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and keep 10 ounces at home, according to the Marijuana Regulatory Agency. Public cannabis consumption is strictly illegal in Michigan. Property owners and businesses may impose their own rules regarding consumption.

A year later in September 2019, two recreational marijuana ordinances for Mount Pleasant were adopted. These ordinances laid out marijuana rules in the city such as only allowing three retailers and allowing edibles only at temporary marijuana events.

By the time the new year came around, the city was ready to accept applications from businesses interested in servicing recreational marijuana.

Initial applications were due in February. However, due to the number of applications received there was a second application process required. The deadline for this supplementary application process was delayed to June 29 due to the state's executive order to combat COVID-19. 

The recreational marijuana licensing process was more extensive compared to the process for medical marijuana licensing, which consisted of drawing ping pong balls at random.

Out of 10 applications received by the city, businesses were ranked the highest through a point system designed by the city of Mount Pleasant’s Adult-Use Marihuana Establishment Selection Committee. 

City Planner Jacob Kain, former City Clerk Jeremy Howard and Director of Public Safety Paul Lauria made up the committee. 

The ranking involved a point system where committee members score how well each business performed in a given category. These categories included things like licensing history, plans for human resources and infrastructure impact. 

“Really the goal of this process was to find the applicants that are going to be most likely to operate in compliance with the law and the ordinance,” Kain said.

Not everyone approved of the committee's decision, however. 

Medical marijuana stores already established in Mount Pleasant looked forward to expanding their business. The two active medical marijuana dispensaries -- Old 27 North and Consano -- addressed concerns at the Aug. 24 city commission meeting. 

Both businesses felt they were not given enough credit for their operations already established in Mount Pleasant. Consano owner Deborah Cary requested the city commission review the scoring method. 

"My business is not a proposal; it's real and ready to go. There are two established businesses presently in the city that are capable of serving the public right now," Cary said. "You chose others to implement your plan. I feel the true spirit of the merit system was lost, or at least diluted, by other's interpretation so much that my business was totally undervalued."

Both business owners wonder if medical-only dispensaries will have a place in the evolving marijuana industry. Old 27 North representative Ryan Jacques said existing businesses may not survive if they are unable to sell marijuana for recreational purposes.

"In the changing landscape of medical marijuana (and) marijuana in Michigan, it almost surely requires that existing medical marijuana retail locations must serve recreational customers in order to survive," Jacques said. "Medical patient numbers are dropping by the month for many reasons including difficulties of patients to see doctors during COVID-19, ease of access to recreational facilities and the cost of obtaining a medical card."

Kain said it wasn't within the committee's discretion to award a license to someone strictly on the basis of their current operation. As for these companies' fears for their future, Kain indicates this is common for many businesses. 

"We have those kind of conversations locally whenever we have a new business open because it's sort of unusual to have a different kind of business to open," Kain said. "There's always a question of, can the community support all of those similar types of businesses? Sometimes, we can. Sometimes we can't. It's just hard to know."

Set opening dates for the Lume and House of Fire have not been announced. The businesses still need to complete all of the steps necessary for licensing and operation on the state level. If businesses fail to complete these steps, conditional authorization will be awarded to the next ranked business.  

Kaine said the businesses must be licensed by the state in under 18 months. Lume's locations at at 901 E. Broomfield St. and 1207 N. Mission St. will be built from the ground-up while House of Fire will occupy the space at 1005 Corporate Dr.

Regardless of concerns, Lauria feels more comfortable than he was in the past about recreational marijuana in the city. He and Kain are curious to see the futures of the businesses.

“If you would have asked me (how I felt about this business) two years ago, I would have said I was not that excited. Today as it sits, this is a professional industry with smart, reputable people," Lauria said. "I couldn't be more proud of the medical marijuana dispensaries in current operation in Mount Pleasant. I couldn't be more excited about what the future has to hold for the three recreational spots."