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GR City Commission gives marijuana businesses until the end of the year to honor written promise


Businesses owners had vowed to promote social equity, however few, if any, are

With a number of marijuana businesses in violation of Grand Rapids’ cannabis social equity program, the city commission voted Tuesday to give dispensaries until the end of the year to comply—or run the risk of losing their license.

Back in 2019, the city of Grand Rapids created the Marijuana Industry Development Agreement (MIVEDA) for medical marijuana dispensaries, and the Cannabis Industry Social Equity Voluntary Agreement (CISEVA) for recreational dispensaries.

The goal of both programs was to create equitable outcomes in the emerging cannabis industry in Grand Rapids, which prior to its legalization, disproportionately incarcerated persons of color for marijuana. The programs promoted local ownership, developing business owners of color, a diverse workforce and supply chain.

In 2019, if potential business owners agreed in writing to promote social equity, the City of Grand Rapids would give them a better chance of obtaining an operating license in a highly competitive pool of candidates.

Fast forward to 2022 -- city officials say, that written promise has been broken; as no recreational dispensaries are in compliance with the agreement, and only 3 out of the 11 medical dispensaries are.

Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington Tuesday said businesses would be given until the end of the year to make things right.

“We will do our best and make sure people will be aware so they are as prepared as they can be between now and Jan. 1,” Washington said. “And then we will begin to enforce.”

Businesses can come into compliance by donating into a newly created non-profit which oversees funds generated by the cannabis industry. That non-profit would then use those funds to promote social equity in lower income neighborhoods. A dangerous idea however, says Grand Rapids City Commissioner Senita Lenear.

“Paying for equity, in my opinion, is the equivalent of slavery, Lenear said. “Modern day slavery, where people can treat the oppressed in whatever way they see fit if they have the financial resources to do so.”

Lenear, one of three commissioners who voted “no” on the extension Tuesday said, the city once had a real opportunity to promote diverse business owners in the cannabis industry after black and brown communities had been targeted during the war on drugs. However, she says, the city “squandered” that opportunity.

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