It’s been a long and bumpy road for the cannabis plant. From being completely illegal and demonized to later decriminalized and only allowed for medical use and, finally, to the legal sale of recreational marijuana in the city.
At the time of this writing, the active recreational cannabis dispensaries in the area are Pharmhouse Wellness, Fluresh, Michigan Supply & Provisions, 3Fifteen and Exclusive Brands.
Retailers generally carry a selection of products including flower, pre-rolled joints, edibles, vape cartridges, concentrates, topicals and more. Customers are encouraged to talk to budtenders to find the best product for their unique tastes and needs.
We spoke to representatives from a few dispensaries and had local experts weigh in to help you support the industry in the most ethical manner possible, whether your priority is to shop local, environmental sustainability, social equity or all of the above; ultimately, the choice is yours.
On being an ethical consumer, Tami VandenBerg, local business owner and co-chair/founder of the West Michigan Cannabis Guild advises: “Look for local ownership, people with experience growing and see how they treat their employees. Are the workers happy to be there? Are they getting paid living wages? In terms of sustainability, packaging is easy to observe. One disappointing thing I’ve seen is when you purchase a joint and it’s in this giant plastic container. Also, look at if they give back to the community.”
Pharmhouse Wellness, 831 Wealthy St. SW, is Grand Rapids’ first locally owned dispensary and the first to open with help from the city’s Cannabis Social Equity policy, which offers discounts on licensing fees for applicants that meet certain requirements. Founder Casey Kornoelje was eligible as a resident of the city with a prior cannabis-related conviction as well as his previous work as a caregiver supplying medical marijuana to patients. “We’re proud to carry products from our local partnerships,” Kornoelje said. “Healing Organic Garden, for example, is a veteran-owned and woman-led facility. By way of us supporting them, they’re able to support NGOs and charities that are near and dear to their heart.”
Fluresh, 1213 Phillips Ave. SW, was the first dispensary to sell recreational marijuana in the city. Its Grand Rapids location serves as the company’s headquarters and its operation is expected to have over 100 employees. Fluresh has partnered with the Black & Brown Cannabis Guild and LINC UP, a nonprofit community development organization, to hire diverse employees. It is specifically working to source workers from the 49507 ZIP code, where there’s disproportionately high unemployment. Its Fast-Acting Drink Enhancer is the first beverage product on the Michigan market and is available in low-dose THC with CBD or moderate-dose THC.
3Fifteen has two locations in Grand Rapids, 2900 S. Division Ave. SE and 3423 Plainfield Ave. NE. It also operates stores in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Flint and Morenci. It partnered with Forty20 Cannabis LLC to help promote diversity in hiring. It also partnered with the Creston Neighborhood Association and the West Grand Neighborhood Organization. “We do a neighborhood scholarship, a community opportunity fund and a beautification fund for each community we’re in,” said Tommy Nafso, president of 3Fifteen.
Exclusive Brands was the first adult-use dispensary to open in Michigan at its flagship location in Ann Arbor. It also has a presence in Kalamazoo. The Grand Rapids store, 2350 29th St. SE, offers brands like Kushy Punch, Strain Kings, Platinum Vape and more. It partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council of Michigan Chapter to lower emissions and install the most energy-efficient lights, appliances and related practices in its facilities.
Michigan Supply & Provisions is currently open in Morenci, Battle Creek, Detroit, Ann Arbor and now with two Grand Rapids locations, 2741 28th St. SE and 1336 Scribner Ave. NW. In July 2020, it announced a partnership with the Last Prisoner Project (LPP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to clemency and expungement, reentry programs and advocacy for individuals with cannabis convictions.
Among all active dispensaries, only Pharmhouse Wellness is fully locally owned. This is because, until recently, one could not obtain a recreational commercial license without a prerequisite medical license, which is very expensive. This prevented entrepreneurs with less capital from participating in the industry.
“A bunch of early licenses went to massive conglomerates with maybe 5% to 10% ownership from a Grand Rapids resident so they could get points during the lottery,” VandenBerg said. “It was a big, missed opportunity to get serious cash into the hands of locals.”
According to Denavvia Mojet, state coordinator for National Expungement Week and founder and executive director of the Black & Brown Cannabis Guild, March 1 was “a milestone for Michigan’s cannabis industry.” It was the first day applicants no longer needed a medical license to qualify for a recreational license. “This is a great opportunity for folks to join the industry on a smaller scale with a boutique-style operation,” she said.
Racial inequity in the cannabis industry
Recent data from the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency showed that fewer than 4% of licenses held across the entire state were held by people who identify as Black. That percentage is even fewer for those that identify as Latinx. Currently, there are no Black or brown-owned dispensaries in Grand Rapids.
“It’s disappointing that Grand Rapids talks about equity so much but hasn’t procured any operators that represent the demographic that was disproportionately criminalized by prohibition, which is people of color,” Mojet said. “My hope is, now that the state can approve people for recreational marijuana licenses without prerequisite medical licenses, that we’ll see different results.”
Recent data from the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency showed that fewer than 4% of licenses held across the entire state were held by people who identify as Black.
Other cities like Detroit only began rolling out recreational licenses once prerequisite medical licenses were no longer required. This helped ensure that local entrepreneurs without millions of dollars could participate. Grand Rapids, however, wanted to move fast. Thus, the Cannabis Industry Social Equity Voluntary Agreement (CISEVA) was born. Applicants essentially promised to use diverse suppliers, have a diverse workforce, and give opportunities to locals through jobs or programs like business accelerators, incubators and apprenticeships. The goal was to incentivize operators to give back to the community rather than just opening and running their businesses.
“Some of them made some pretty significant promises to obtain licenses, from funding scholarships to using Black or brown contractors and hiring people with felonies,” VandenBerg said. “How is the city going to hold these folks accountable? What is the measurement for these outcomes? They handed over massive public assets to people who claimed they would do all these things when they don’t have a track record for having done that before.”
Ultimately, the people of Grand Rapids voted overwhelmingly for Proposition 1. “People want to open these businesses and people want to go to these businesses. It’s just a vocal minority that has strong ties to our leadership that is fighting against progress,” VandenBerg said. “We have to open up more zoning and not have as many sensitive uses. We need to support local candidates that believe in science and civil liberties.”
“You can open a liquor store on every corner, but you can’t open a cannabis business near a park, a daycare, a school, a youth center or a church; and the people who have millions of dollars already bought all the available properties,” Mojet said. “We need to relax the restrictions around properties that can be developed for cannabis and be intentional about creating social equity programs that benefit people of color.”
The good news is that, with legalization, locals aren’t actively getting arrested and losing their jobs or homes over cannabis. However, there still are people currently incarcerated for it. Michigan resident Michael Thompson spent the last 26 years in prison for a nonviolent cannabis-related charge and was just released this past January. There also are folks with minor infractions on their records that affect their opportunities. One thing to keep an eye on is Michigan’s new Clean Slate Law, which took effect in April and expanded the types and number of convictions that qualify for expungement.
“Yes, we can now buy legal cannabis and yes, the industry is taking off and we’re seeing large returns. … But we just spent decades on the war on drugs, and it was the largest driver of mass incarceration for people of color,” Mojet said. “What we need is more equity.”
This story can be found in the July/August 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here.