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Kalamazoo leaders look to amend social equity policy for marijuana businesses

Marijuana plants
Flickr user A7nubis
City leaders in Kalamazoo plan to look at more options to increase the number of marijuana businesses owned by people of color in the city.

City leaders in Kalamazoo plan to look at more options to increase the number of marijuana businesses owned by people of color in the city. This week, city commissioners were asked to look at some zoning changes affecting marijuana businesses. But some commissioners pushed back.

“We can do much better with including the BIPOC community in the cannabis arena,” said Commissioner Stephanie Hoffman.

Some city staff responded they were planning to present new ideas for amending the city’s social equity policy in marijuana dispensaries in June.

But Commissioner Estevan Juarez asked why that wasn’t already being done, pointing out that the majority of marijuana business owners in Kalamazoo are white, and may not represent the communities that were most hurt by enforcing marijuana laws.

“My dad was imprisoned for marijuana sales,” Juarez said. “He can’t get that time back. But then now we got the majority of white owners selling marijuana up the wazoo - 50 dollars an ounce, at times - just to draw people in.”

Juarez said the outcome was an example of how systemic racism works.

“And if we don’t start actually thinking about that and taking action in the beginning of things that are happening to benefit people who were disproportionately affected, we’re just, we’re part of this vicious cycle,” Juarez said.

Kalamazoo instituted a social equity policy regarding marijuana businesses in June of 2020 that gave discounts on city licenses for businesses owned by residents from certain parts of Kalamazoo, or who had a prior marijuana conviction.

But city attorney Clyde Robinson said many potential business owners still face barriers raising enough money to get started in the industry. Now, he says the city is considering an amendment to its social equity policy that uses some of the revenues from marijuana taxes to help with startup funds.

The state says Kalamazoo is receiving $564,534.40 in marijuana tax disbursements this year.

“We’re sharing in that bounty, if you will,” Robinson said. “And that’s why we want to come before you with an amended social equity policy, so as to make use of that increased capital.”

City staff plan to discuss a possible amendment to the social equity policy at an upcoming meeting of the commission’s committee of the whole. A date for that meeting hasn’t been set.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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