Sep. 4—TRAVERSE CITY — When Traverse City began accepting applications for medical cannabis licenses in 2019, more than 70 potential provisioners filed.
Now, as the city prepares to approve licenses for adult-use cannabis retailers, otherwise known as recreational marijuana dispensaries, they have a somewhat more modestly sized list of candidates before them. As of the deadline last week, the city clerk's office reports it received 16 applications, with a 17th coming in after the deadline.
That's two-thirds of 24-license maximum city leaders agreed upon in May, when they set the rules for the new establishments.
That means applicants will not have to be graded against the additional scoring rubric the city established to pare down the applicants.
And it may also mean that the industry has "tamped down" since its earlier days, and that retailers aren't clawing to get a spot in every market that opens up. That could signal that the days of land grabbing and speculation associated with the marijuana business are over in Traverse City, one local leader suggested.
"We saw that kind of gold rush — I think they called it the 'green rush' at the time — in our real estate market when we opened up the medical, and we were hoping that that wouldn't happen this time around," said Amy Shamroe, city commissioner and mayor pro-tem. "And so far, from what I've heard, it has not."
Shamroe said she wasn't necessarily surprised by the lower number of applicants this time around, and that the result was just about what she'd hoped for.
Shamroe was on the ad hoc committee which established Traverse City's marijuana ordinance and licensing rules, including the competitive scoring process that would have been implemented if the city received more than eight additional applications. The city previously attempted to establish limits and a scoring rubric for adult-use cannabis applicants, but those rules were held up in 2020 when a dispensary owner sued on the basis that they were too restrictive.
Early city commission discussions raised the possibility of setting the maximum even lower, ranging anywhere from four to 12, according to past reporting. The final decision split the commission 4-3, with the holdouts all expressing a preference for a lower number.
But Shamroe said she felt 24 was reasonable, allowing established medical cannabis provisioning centers to apply for adult-use licenses, without excluding potential retailers passed up in the city's medical license lottery.
As it stands, all 12 of the current medical marijuana establishments filed for a recreational marijuana license.
Now, the Traverse City clerk's office and Traverse City Police Department will spend the better part of the next year reviewing the extensive supporting documentation that accompanies the applications.
That includes records like financial history, experience in the industry, background information on major investors, and proof of legal entitlement to the property. All totaled, those documents can run a few hundred pages, said City Clerk Benjamin Marentette.
"Even though we didn't get more applications than licenses available, it doesn't mean it's a given that all the applicants are going to get a license," he said. "That's our hope, but we have to do our due diligence."
He expects all of the applications to be complete by March 2023.
Eventually, the applicants will have to go through the city planning department to have their site plan permits approved.
"That's what we do here every day and process those applications," said Planning Director Shawn Winter. "We've got a pretty efficient system, so I'm not worried about it."
Moving forward, Shamroe said she's hopeful that the retailers that open up will be good neighbors to their surrounding businesses, residents and property owners. Because of the smaller number, as well as the fact the on-site use will not be permitted, she said she doesn't think Traverse City will become a "hub" for the industry, like some had feared. Instead, cannabis may just be another one of many goods people can pick up when they're in town.
"That's what people do here," she said. "They purchase wine, they purchase distilled liquor from distilleries that are made here, if they choose to buy cannabis here as well, that is certainly legal, and there's nothing wrong with that."
Report for America corps member and data journalist William T. Perkins' reporting is made possible by a partnership between the Record-Eagle and Report for America, a journalism service project founded by the nonprofit Ground Truth Project. Generous community support helps fund a local share of the Record-Eagle/RFA partnership. To support RFA reporters in Traverse City, go to www.record-eagle.com/rfa.