‘The beginning of a new era’: Hundreds of people from throughout the state pour into Muskegon shop for recreational marijuana debut
Before the sun rose Friday morning, a line began to form outside Park Place Provisionary at 1922 Park St. in Muskegon.
Tucked into coats and hats, people from throughout Michigan—including Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Muskegon—poured into a heated tent and, flanked by marijuana leaf-shaped cookies and Park Place Provisionary clothing with slogans that read “best joint in town” and “I made history and all I got was this dope T-shirt,” they waited for the clock to strike 10am. Then, City Commissioner Ken Johnson said, it was “the beginning of a new era.”
For the first time since President Franklin D. Roosevelt banned marijuana a little more than 80 years ago in 1937, the legal sale of recreational cannabis had come to Muskegon.
“We’re super excited, and people are excited; we even had people drive here all the way from Detroit and Lansing,” said Tracy Powers, who runs Agri-Med, the company that owns Park Place Provisionary, with her partner, Greg Maki.
Park Place’s launch of adult-use cannabis arrived about a year after Michiganders voted to approve it in the November 2018 election—and the Muskegon business, which debuted as a medicinal marijuana dispensary in June, is the first shop to sell recreational marijuana in West Michigan. Another dispensary, Bella Sol Wellness Centers at 1839 Peck St. too has received a recreational marijuana license from the state and expects to soon hold its grand opening.
This beginning of adult-use marijuana, elected officials, Park Place’s owners, and customers explained, paves the way for cannabis tourism, serves as a catalyst for further economic growth in Muskegon, and is spurring job creation and development in an area that has faced business closures and vacant buildings. And, Johnson said, it marks the end to a cannabis prohibition that has destroyed people’s lives and split apart families as individuals were shipped to prison on marijuana charges.
“It’s the end of prohibition locally that had unfortunately ensnared too many people and disproportionately affected people of color in our community, so I’m glad that’s behind us and now we’re creating new economic opportunity,” Johnson, who has long been an advocate of growing the marijuana industry in Muskegon, said just after purchasing edibles at Park Place Friday morning. “I’m particularly excited for folks like Greg Maki, who is a city resident, being able to start a new business in this new industry and employ people in my community.”
Friday’s sales represent—at least locally, as the federal government has not legalized cannabis—a sunset on a war on marijuana that has overwhelmingly impacted people of color. Despite the fact that white and black people use marijuana at about the same rates, black individuals are 3.73 times more likely than their white peers to be arrested for marijuana, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The eight-decade prohibition has led to hundreds of thousands of arrests across the country each year and police annually spending about $3.6 billion to enforce marijuana possession laws in the United States, the ACLU reported.
To address the fallout from the war on marijuana in Muskegon, Johnson emphasized that the city’s social equity program aims to help individuals who have been hurt in the past by cannabis prohibition. The program, designed by the Muskegon City Commission in response to the legalization of marijuana, will, for example, dedicate 35 percent of its excise tax revenues to such initiatives as expungement courses that will help individuals apply to wipe past criminal convictions from their records, business loans, and more.
“Our local social equity program is designed to help people who had been negatively affected in the past by prohibition to go through expungement or get the resources and support they need to be able to not only participate in this industry, but have a whole active, meaningful life in whatever endeavor they want to move forward in, whether that’s cannabis or something else,” Johnson said.
The stories of the hundreds of people who came through Park Place Provisionary on Friday were, of course, as varied as the individuals themselves. They were young and old, educators and lawmakers, caretakers and first responders, musicians and retirees. Some had been smoking marijuana for years to address health issues, from joint pain to nausea from chemotherapy; others were about to try it for the first time.
“This is going to be good for the city; I think it’s going to bring in tourists,” Powers said, referring to the recreational marijuana business. “We have cruise ships coming to Muskegon now; I’d like to see some kind of partnership with that in the future. I would love to see them allow it in the downtown. I think people would love a small boutique provisionary center.”
Currently, cannabis businesses can only operate in what’s known as the marijuana overlay district. The recreational overlay district—approved by city lawmakers in October—is located near Seaway Drive, with one section of the district being bordered by Seaway, Young Avenue, Park Street, and West Hackley Avenue. The district’s second section is bordered by Laketon Avenue, Park Street, Keating Avenue, Holbrook Avenue, and just east of Peck Street.
Johnson and Powers both said it would benefit the city to allow marijuana businesses to operate akin to something like bars—meaning they could set up shop throughout the area.
“I was not in love with this being confined to a particular district, but that was what was necessary to get the ball rolling to get enough political support for it,” Johnson said. “I do envision us eventually expanding it…We need to get to the point where we’re treating it like any other business.”
Powers too said she expects the strict marijuana regulations to loosen.
“I anticipate [cannabis] will eventually be anywhere you go to buy a controlled substance, like alcohol,” Powers said. “It will become a lot more commonplace.”
Drew Maki, Greg Maki’s son who works at the provisionary, said a downtown marijuana business “would be awesome, especially if it was more like a bar setting.”
“You could have a bar downtown where you could give out dabs or THC-infused drinks, and people could just hang out,” he said. “I think that would be really cool for the industry.”
In the meantime, the work currently being done means “the overlay district is being made nice again,” Maki emphasized. Each marijuana business approved by the city has to meet a variety of criteria, such as landscaping, lighting, building upgrades, and a community engagement plan. At Park Place, for example, the business owners launched extensive renovations at the 80-year-old building that was previously home to a trucking company. They connected the property with city water and sewer, landscaped the property, and more. They plan on soon installing street lights and benches.
“We already did the nice landscaping, but we’re going to amp it up even more as part of being granted a recreational license,” Powers said.
Those at Friday’s celebration also lauded the economic impact of the marijuana industry on the city.
“The tax revenue, the jobs are making a difference,” Greg Maki said. “We’ve created 26 jobs in a little over six months.”
Like Powers, Muskegon resident Noah Buck said he expects the city’s recreational marijuana industry to generate tourism.
“It’s going to draw people into our city for sure,” Buck said as he waited to enter Park Place. “It will make us more of a destination than we used to be, and the tax revenue should be nice as well.”
Hannah Lucas, also of Muskegon, said the marijuana industry’s growth in the area translates to having “more businesses and safer marijuana.”
“When you go into a dispensary, you know what you’re getting; you know the ingredients,” said Lucas, who celebrated her birthday Friday and called the adult-use cannabis debut “a pretty awesome birthday gift.”
State Rep. Terry Sabo (D-Muskegon) emphasized the impact the industry is slated to have on the region.
“This is a monumental event for Muskegon, and I’m anxious to see how it plays out,” Sabo said. “My role as a state legislator is to make sure that the process is working the way it’s supposed to work. How can we make it better? What’s working? What’s not working?”
Greg Maki and Powers said they, as well as marijuana businesses throughout Michigan, have faced barriers to accessing enough flower product—simply, it’s taking time for people to grow cannabis and there’s a growing demand for marijuana. To address this, Park Place is launching its own grow operation at the back of their property so “we don’t have to worry as much about supply issues and can have more control over the pricing,” Powers said.
But, clearly, the business is, overall, working for Maki and Powers. After opening Park Place, they’ve gone on to open Exit 9 in Nunica and are now working on a store in Whitehall. Plus, they were just granted a license to open a marijuana business at Michigan Street and Fuller Avenue in Grand Rapids.
For Drew Maki, the challenges are more than worth it, especially when it comes to being able to address customers’ health concerns. Maki applied for his medicinal marijuana card as soon as he turned 18 years old—the former athlete “was always sore” and experienced significant stomach problems.
“My appetite was a big thing; I had IBS [irritable bowel syndrome], so it messed with my bowels and I couldn’t eat a lot,” he continued. “Using the product helped me to actually eat and gain more mass.”
With recreational marijuana being legal, Drew Maki said individuals with health problems who may not have had a medicinal card can now more easily access relief from pain.
“I tell people they need to give it more of a chance, try to lose the stigma behind it,” he said. “I think it can help just about anybody.”
Photos by Pat ApPaul. A documentary photographer from South Wales, United Kingdom, Pat is now based in Muskegon. Pat’s work can be found at www.PatApPaul.com, and he can be contacted by emailing Pat.ApPaul@gmail.com.
Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. Connect with Anna by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.