Traverse City Dispensaries Fight for Recreational Sales

“These stores are only medical only and not adult use. I think everybody believes they’re already adult use.” -Michael DiLaura

Traverse City’s cannabis companies are teaming up to get the word out – they’re still fighting to be open to all customers. Marijuana No Recreational Sales

Traverse City has 12 dispensaries – but they’re all only allowed to sell medical marijuana. And that’s not the business model they were planning on when Michigan voters allowed recreational pot back in 2018.

Mia Fabian is the General Manager at Lighthouse. “People just think because they voted for it, because it was passed, that we just have it. But we don’t. And there’s no plans for it.”

Traverse City has a dozen shops for medical marijuana. But they came here after voters said yes to recreational marijuana, and many thought that was the business they were getting into. Michael DiLaura is the Chief Corporate Operations & General Counsel for House of Dank. He says, “We know there’s support for it. The city’s already opted in. 68% of residents voted for Prop 1.”

Bud Bar Pot MarijuanaMeanwhile the state just announced that millions of dollars is going back to cities, townships and counties that have recreational facilities, as a part of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. That’s 38 counties, seven villages, 21 townships, and 38 cities in all – but Traverse City isn’t one of them. DiLaura says, “The MRA, the Marijuana Regulatory Authority here in Michigan, just announced $10 (M) million dollars was being returned back to municipalities that have adult-use, recreational storefronts. Traverse City left over $300,000 on the table… by not allowing that. The state was giving $28,000 per storefront.”

Store owners and employees say it simply doesn’t have to be this way. “This is really an example of us trying to initiate the conversation, of ‘let’s get real here.’ We’ve got an incredible summer tourism season coming up.” DiLaura adds, “We think we just need to start thinking about our constituents, both the tourists we bring in and rely on for economic development, as well as the men and women that live in Traverse City.” Marijuana Pipes

They also argue that municipalities across the entire state that have medical facilities, have then adopted recreational rules. Again, with one exception.  DiLaura says, “When you look across the state of Michigan at every municipality that has previously had medical facilities, then later adopted into the adult-use, recreational marketplace, there is not a single city that has put up a barrier for their existing stores to not operate in this other marketplace. Traverse City is the only one.”

Fabian says, “It’s amazing that Traverse City is not getting on board.”  She says it’s an investment of time, money, and human capital. DiLaura agrees. “Collectively you’re looking at $20 (M) million dollars spent and over 100 jobs that have been created and we expect there to be considerably more jobs… if we were able to serve that greater marketplace.”

Lighthouse MarijuanaFabian says, “It’s a gamble. We don’t know. I guess that’s the hardest part is not knowing. The amount of people that come in here that are thinking we’re recreational, that we have to turn away, is substantial.  Some days it’s probably 75% of people that walk in to the building are here for recreational. Even the people in the local city don’t understand the recreational isn’t a thing yet.”

Fabian says it’s a daily occurrence. “We’re just sending, I would say hundreds between (all) the dispensaries, hundreds of people a day to neighboring cities. To give them their money. Which makes no sense. If we have all these dispensaries why wouldn’t we be able to sell?  I’m sending everyone, almost everyone that walks in here to Kalkaska or Honor. It just kind of feels wrong.”Marijuana Bud

These businesses predict at least half of them could be forced to close if they’re not allowed to sell recreationally. Fabian says, “We’re all on the same page. We’re all struggling a bit right now financially.”

“We saw how much money went into them to make these beautiful places. And then to know that it wasn’t going to go anywhere right away, it’s just going to kind of sit here. I think that’s the scariest part for all of us. It’s a very big possibility that if we don’t get recreational soon, half of them may shut down. And to know the amount of money that goes into one, and the licensing and all of that, that would just be heartbreaking. I don’t want to see – even my biggest competitors – I don’t want to see them fail. I want to see us all succeed.”

Marijuana BudsFabian says this wasn’t the vision she had for the business when she moved from downstate. She was in charge of hiring, and had many qualified candidates. But she wasn’t ready to give them a job until recreational sales were allowed. “Those people have already given up. But the fact that I could double my staff and give people who live Traverse City a job. It makes so much sense in my head. I’m just shocked that no one is on board with it from the City.”

Fabian says the businesses have proven that marijuana and cannabis isn’t about “pot heads.” She says people of all ages coming in, some of them desperate for an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs to ease pain or other health issues. “I just know what cannabis does for people is extraordinary. It’s giving people who haven’t slept for eight hours in ten years a chance to sleep for eight hours a night and enjoy life. And it’s not a way to just cope with life.”Marijuana Let Us Sell

Cities are allowed to opt-out or set their own regulations. And while Traverse City did inch forward with plans for recreational applications back in November and December, the momentum has stalled. Business owners say there’s no good reason for it. They’re collecting informal petitions to show support for recreational use. DiLaura says, “Allow these businesses to compete fairly in the marketplace for the consumers business and attention.”

9&10 reached out to the city for any update on the regulations and licensing issues for the dispensaries. The city manager declined to comment and referred us to the city clerk’s office. We’re told the clerk is out of the office this week and is unavailable for comment.