MUSKEGON, MI – Citing the need for more social equity, the Muskegon city commission has taken the first step to expand the city’s marijuana retail districts.

The commission on Tuesday, Aug. 25, voted to include several additional properties, some of them owned by people of color, in its marijuana operating districts.

It also voted to include properties near downtown for marijuana microbusinesses – an area of the recreational marijuana business that has not been used much, according to city officials.

The vote to change the city’s zoning ordinance to include two additional marijuana districts requires a second reading.

The Muskegon Planning Commission last week rejected a much broader expansion of the retail marijuana districts. The same proposed expansion was brought before the city commission, which narrowed it considerably.

Related: Marijuana retail expansion rejected by Muskegon planning commission

The commission tentatively agreed to allow microbusinesses at 639 W. Clay Ave., 623 W. Clay Ave. and at the Watermark Center, 920 Washington Ave.

In addition, after passionate pleas for social equity from Commissioners Willie German Jr. and Eric Hood, they voted to allow retail marijuana sales at 796 E. Apple Ave. and 981 S. Getty St. – located at the intersection of those two streets – as well as 935 S. Getty St., and 863 and 885 E. Laketon Ave. The locations on Laketon could also house microbusinesses allowing for the growing of marijuana.

Officials noted that people of color own the properties at Getty and Apple.

“We’re talking about social equity, we’re talking about diversity and inclusion,” German said prior to the vote. “This is one way to make it right, one way to give an opportunity to business owners who don’t have a stake in the game.”

If it gets past the second reading, the ordinance would expand the city’s existing marijuana district that allows for businesses operating under any medical or recreational marijuana license allowed by the state, including for growing, processing, transporting, selling, and prescribing marijuana.

The existing district consists of a square bordered by Seaway Drive, Young Avenue, Park Street and West Hackley Avenue. The second, oddly shaped portion of the district is roughly bordered by Laketon Avenue, Park Street, Keating Avenue, Holbrook Avenue and a line just east of Peck Street.

Three retail operations have opened in the last year, and a fourth, along with two grow operations, are currently under construction.

In addition to Hood and German, Commissioner Dan Rinsema-Sybenga and Mayor Stephen Gawron voted in favor of the marijuana expansion. Commissioners Michael Ramsey, Teresa Emery and Ken Johnson voted no.

Ramsey and Johnson both said they agreed more social equity needed to be built into the city’s marijuana districts, but that this was not the way to do it.

Ramsey, who is a person of color, noted that while two property owners who are people of color would benefit from the expansion, that that should not be considered “social equity” and that he’s not willing to settle for “compromise.”

“This plan does not mitigate the issues we’re speaking on today,” Ramsey said.

He proposed making the entire city open for recreational businesses.

Mike Franzak, the city’s planning director, said the expansion would help business owners who are people of color, but also expand access to a more diverse clientele.

Marijuana microbusinesses, allowed on the Clay Avenue properties and a portion of the Watermark Center property, allows a business to grow up to 150 marijuana plants, process the product and sell it.

Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson said Muskegon could be “one of the first, if not the first” city in the state with marijuana microbusinesses.

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