From misdemeanor to medicine: The face of marijuana has changed
Photo: Scott Fraley/News Advocate
MANISTEE — Around the state, communities like Manistee are seeing firsts like what Manistee saw on Thursday morning: its first marijuana business opening.
The grand opening event at 28 Arthur St. for Dunegrass’ medical provisioning and adult-use retail was the result of years in the making with changes to legislation, voter opinions, local ordinances and businesses interested in investing in places like Manistee.
A line of about 60 people gathered before 10 a.m. while representatives from the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce, Eric Piedmonte, Dunegrass chief operations officer; Dunegrass chief executive officer Nick Piedmonte; and others cut a ribbon signifying the official opening of Dunegrass.
But the line of people featured individuals throughout with stories of ailments that they turned to marijuana to ease either as a medical patients or adult-use customers.
Dunegrass grand opening … find more info here: https://www.manisteenews.com/insider/article/Manistee-s-first-marijuana-business-opens-15514500.php
Several Manistee residents in line said they had been used to traveling to towns like Traverse City or Benzonia and could now frequent the Manistee business instead.
The business carries products such as flowers in various forms such as loose or prerolled, concentrates, waxes, topicals and edibles.
Desiree Frechette, a longtime Manistee resident and a medical marijuana patient, was in line Thursday morning for edibles and said she had visited Dunegrass during its soft opening earlier in the week.
She said now, she does not “have to travel so far for medicine.”
Frechette noted that the staff made her feel welcome, which encouraged her to return.
“It was nice, a good experience the first time I was here,” she said, adding that people should “sample and find what works for you and they’ve got a lot of knowledge. They’ll let you know. That one guy (on staff), he was very educational.”
Frechette said she and the staff member connected when she told him about her plans to get a dog, and he showed her photos of his pet.
“It made me feel like home and that was the first time I was here,” she said.
Eric Piedmonte, Dunegrass chief operations officer, said in a previous News Advocate interview that customers will have a “very intimate, very individual, customer-driven experience. … We see ourselves just as much as educators as we do as sales.”
“We feel the customer experience is a big deal and everything we can do to let everyone know that we’re grounded in northern Michigan and big fans of the area,” Piedmonte had said.
Colleen MacDonald, of Manistee, was another medical patient in line.
She referenced problems with her hands and disability. MacDonald said she was excited for the business’ opening.
“Instead of taking a pill, you eat a gummy bear,” she said.
MacDonald said Dunegrass’ opening is going to save her trips to Traverse City for medical marijuana.
Both the cutting of the ribbon and the greeting of its first customers through the door garnered clapping hands and vocalized support — as well as some cheerful honking as motorists passed by the sight.
Dunegrass’ opening is not simply just an example of another new business opening in Manistee.
It comes with a backstory that branches out and reflects others of its kind that are planning to open later this year in the city, while also showing results of actions that have been in the making for more than a decade in the state.
Quite a few pieces had to be in place before any marijuana business could even apply to start the process of opening in Manistee as a medical provisioning center for medical patients, or as an adult-use retail for customers.
Here are some local and state highlights that give a broader picture of the scope of Manistee’s first marijuana business:
• In 2008, medical marijuana was legalized in Michigan.
• According to the Feb. 20, 2018 Manistee City Council agenda packet, council adopted a marijuana ordinance on Jan. 2, 2018.
Part of that ordinance allows certain medical marijuana facilities in the city and the city anticipated that it would incur labor costs with that move for staff to evaluate applications for medical marijuana facility permits and the ongoing oversight of the granted permits.
• Even though voters approved legalizing adult use marijuana for people 21 and older in November of 2018, it took another year for the state to have a system in place for those sales to be considered legal while also having licenses, permits, tracking and other measures. The law also stipulated that one needed to purchase marijuana only from permitted/licensed businesses and those needed to wait until the systems were in place by the state to then go through the licensing/permitting process and then open.
• Some municipalities throughout the state, like Manistee, opted to allow medical provisioning centers and adult-use retail operations.
• The City of Manistee Planning Commission approved 10 special use permits on Sept. 19, 2019 for potential marijuana businesses located in the Marijuana Sales Overlay district on Arthur Street. An additional applicant was approved for a special use permit on Oct. 3, 2019.
• The process requires proposed businesses to go through a list of steps such as requesting an application from the city, then taking forms to the state, then reapproaching the city again once the state has approved licenses/permits, and then additional approval from the city as well as follow up steps such as ensuring the building and procedures are secure, rigorously tracked and other rules followed after opening.
• In October 2019, the city of Manistee started accepting applications to start the permitting and licensing process for any who wished to be a medical provisioning center or adult use retail marijuana business.
• Manistee limits the locations and numbers of the different license types. Locations of businesses are limited to a swath of parcels along Arthur Street.
• Manistee’s Chief Financial Officer, Ed Bradford, previously said 15% of the taxes will go back to city communities that allow marijuana retailers.
• The permitting/licensing process involves large fees partly to defray costs of the time and services by local entities such as the city clerk’s office and police.
• This summer, several of the proposed businesses reported to Manistee City Council that they are closer to opening later this year and at least one proposed business noted they had difficulties caused by ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
• At two separate recent city council meetings, one business voiced a request for additional adult-use license/permits as the city limits the number available. That topic of discussion is expected to be addressed at coming city council meetings or work sessions.
• Another aspect that has factored into the landscape of marijuana businesses in Manistee is the pandemic.
Like other businesses and projects around the state, the pandemic has slowed construction efforts, created a backlog and put certain roles like contractors and materials at a higher premium than last year. Because of this and a delay in state approvals of the requisite permits and licenses for marijuana businesses, Manistee City Council voted to approve an extension to currently proposed marijuana businesses. This means that projects that were required to open by Oct. 24, now have until April 1, 2021.