GRAND RAPIDS, MI — A debate is raging over whether Grand Rapids should forbid marijuana businesses from locating within a certain distance of youth activity centers.

Members of the public flooded the city commission meeting with input on the topic this week during a public hearing that lasted one and a half hours.

A majority of those who called into the virtual meeting asked, with some pleading, that city commissioners make youth centers a “sensitive use,” like churches, schools and parks, that marijuana businesses may not be able to locate within 1,000 feet of.

Generally, those in favor of adding youth centers also supported a proposal to remove the waiver process currently in place. Based on the city’s current guidelines, marijuana businesses can seek a waiver to locate within 1,000 feet of certain sensitive uses if the planning commission approves a waiver. Waivers already obtained by businesses would not be impacted.

City commissioners will decide on the youth center and waiver process questions at their Sept. 29 meeting.

Many of those in support of youth centers as a sensitive use spoke about marijuana businesses as a potential source of crime and an entrance point for youth to obtain marijuana.

“I would request that the youth centers are added to the list of sensitive land uses, and for the following reasons: I believe that the city of Grand Rapids and the commission should engage in systematic research really to determine conclusively whether or not there are negative impacts of youth and marijuana use,” said Rev. Eula C. Gaddis.

“Secondly, I think there should be more research on how the exposure and the proximity of marijuana dispensaries to those youth centers could result in an increased use of marijuana.”

Some of those opposed to the idea noted the strict rules and regulations surrounding the legal purchase of marijuana — one of which being that only people age 21 and older can buy it. Another opposition argument was that the removal of the waiver process and addition of youth centers as a sensitive use would hamstring the growing marijuana industry.

“As you know I worked in planning for 14 years and cannabis for several of those and as far as youth centers tonight I was hearing a lot of fear,” said Landon Bartley, a former Grand Rapids senior planner who managed the city’s marijuana program. “One caller talked about creating safe spaces for youths. I totally agree. Cannabis facilities are not that place. As another caller mentioned, people under 21 cannot go inside.

“It’s also worth mentioning that cannabis facilities have been found to have very little negative land use impact in general, including no correlation to an increase in violent crime, no correlation to incidents in youth use of cannabis due to proximity.”

If the city commission does label youth centers a sensitive use, it will have some impact on the 10 medical marijuana provisioning centers that have applied so far to sell recreational marijuana in the city.

The move won’t stop the centers from potentially selling retail marijuana, but it will forbid them from expanding later on if they are located within 1,000 feet of a youth center.

Depending on a number of variables, including proximity to youth centers, the move could block some of the remaining 11 provisioning centers from becoming recreational dispensaries.

Of those 11, nine need the city commission to provide them with a way to transfer their current sensitive use waivers to recreational operations. That question is also before the city commission on Sept. 29.

The question around youth centers arose from a city commission meeting on July 21, with some commissioners asking the planning commission to deliberate on youth centers as a sensitive use.

Related: Grand Rapids leaders approve plan expediting recreational marijuana sales after initial delay

The planning commission and the city’s planning director are opposed to adding youth centers.

The planning commission recommended against the move in part because they were unable to understand the impact of adding youth centers because they are not easily identifiable like other sensitive uses.

The planning commission also talked about the impact on the ability for businesses to expand and the confusion that may arise when trying to identify what actually constitutes a youth center.

The city’s planning director, Kristin Turkelson, pointed to the YMCA as an example of how identifying youth centers can become complicated.

“When I look at the YMCA, I think we would all agree that’s a community center/workout facility, athletic facility, but they do serve a youth component, so is that a youth center as well?” Turkelson said. “That’s sort of where the planning commission and myself were a bit challenged of how do you define it. What feels like a simplistic idea or notion becomes more complicated when you actually have to apply it.”

The definition of youth centers that the planning commission considered is:

“A government or nonprofit facility that offers programs and services primarily to persons under 18 years of age and is used for said programs and services for more than five (5) hours per day each day the facility is open. Programs and services may include, but are not limited to, social, training, cultural, or advisory services and activities and includes private youth membership organizations or clubs and social service teenage club facilities. A Youth Center does not include childcare centers, educational uses, religious institutions, or parks and playgrounds.”

Turkelson said she supports the removal of the waiver process, stating the process has been difficult to administer. She added that the process has created frustration not just for those representing sensitive uses but businesses and the planning commission as well.

Turkelson also recommended the city commission approve the waiver transfer and allow microbusinesses.

The planning commission is slated to start considering the 10 special land use applications for recreational marijuana dispensaries in November. Based on past practice, Turkelson said, the planning commission will likely consider three to four of them a month.

Once approved for a special land use permit, the dispensaries would then have to go to the state for final approval. Turkelson said she couldn’t speak to how long that process would take.

The following are the addresses and business names of those slated for consideration to sell recreational marijuana:

  • Michigan Supply and Provisions at 2741 28th St. SE
  • SB VB Grand Rapids LLC at 3767 28th St. SE
  • 3Fifteen at 650 Burton St. SW
  • 3Fifteen at 2900 Division Ave.
  • 3Fifteen at 715 Michigan St. NE
  • Gage Cannabis Company at 3075 Peregrine Drive NE
  • Michigan Supply and Provisions at 1336 Scribner Ave. NW
  • Pharmhouse Wellness at 831 Wealthy St. SW
  • 3Fifteen at 1815 Alpine Ave. NW
  • 3Fifteen at 3423 Plainfield Ave. NE

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