Local Small Businesses and the Recreational Cannabis Market

The voters of Michigan decided that recreational marijuana should be legal, passing the proposal in the polls of late last year, and while everything is still up in the air, it is curious how this will affect the local businesses of Grand Rapids when the dust settles in December.

For the past near-decade, people have been reading about how the pro-weed and legalized states/counties have been doing and overall the market becomes just like every other one: have a product, advertise it, and sell it.

As Crain’s Detroit Business highlighted last month, there are many Lansing-, Detroit-, Oregon-, and Arizona-based dispensary corporations looking to move into the Grand Rapids (GR) area. But as one might wonder, what about all of the well-known paraphernalia shops/head shops and indoor garden supply stores that are based out of GR?

Canada’s new recreational cannabis market could reflect how GR is going to approach the incoming laws and regulations as well as consumer demand, as their laws are changing very similar to ours here in Michigan.

The laws in Canada, our upstairs neighbor, involving smoking marijuana for leisure changed months before Michigan’s recreational cannabis proposal was voted upon; according to Canada’s Dept. of Justice, the act of legalizing and regulating marijuana will “protect public health and safety by allowing adults access to legal cannabis,” as of October 2019.

Currently, there is a surge of small and local mail-order-marijuana dispensaries (MOMs) popping up all over Canada, as if the medical marijuana corporations had no plans to dive into the recreational side of the new laws.

At this stage, many Canadian smokers are going to review-blogs, like Dispensary GTA, to shuffle through all of the MOMs in the market, their deals, prices, and products, unbiased to the marketing ploys of larger businesses against the smaller ones.

Above is Dispensary GTA’s homepage, which I am sure someone will have a twin to here in Michigan.

“The [Canadian] market is wide open right now … my site just helps hook people up with people to get their medicine a bit cheaper,” Julian Bud said, the owner of the Dispensary GTA review blog.

With so many larger businesses looking at GR as a viable place to expand their cannabis company, it seems like there is already a capitalistic approach being taken here in Michigan.

It may be advantageous for underground weed growers to surface just as the small and local Canadian businesses did because, as Bud explained, the market is currently very spacious and there is no shortage of consumers. And then the quality of each available product can be reviewed fairly as they are in Canada with “sites like mine that review all the players in the market,” Bud added.

After talking with a couple of retailers here in GR, there were a few common reasons as to why small GR-based stores should look into selling marijuana but there were also a few reasons as to why it might be difficult.

Locally-owned business Growco, an indoor garden supply store, sells products like lights that are made for plants, trays, pots, anything to grow plants inside. They also sell bonsai trees and bonsai pots in their greenhouse, which is attached to the building, separated by a door, and open to the customers.

With the marijuana laws changing, one would assume that their business would get busier with people interested in growing but one could also wonder if they are adding cannabis to their greenhouse.

Sabryna Davis, one of the managers at Growco, has been working at the Michigan Street location for over three years and has been managing there for a year and a half. Davis was very knowledgeable on the anticipated laws in addition to the skills of the trade and their products.

Davis said that they will not be able to sell anything cannabis-related as much as they want to, “this location is technically 70 feet too close to Housemen’s Field, which is associated to a school.”

And with this technicality, Davis explains that even if the policy expands for two miles, those 70 feet is still too close to a stadium that is connected to a high school and college. Luckily they have another store, so they may look into selling marijuana there but the secondary store does not have an attached greenhouse to grow it in.

Davis also shed light on how commercial or industrial marijuana farmers are not as caring and attentive as smaller growers. Even though they are under strict guidelines by state regulations “there were people who died in California from fungicide poisoning from a large commercial grower – they treated their powdery mildew and then they didn’t rinse off their plants before selling it,” however, product testing has since become increasingly tighter.

As of now, it looks like Growco on Michigan Street will not be able to sell marijuana or weed-related products once the laws change but there could still be a possibility for their other location. Davis further explained that the policy tightening is riddled into the cannabis industry, making it difficult to get into the game of selling recreational or medical marijuana.

Another small GR-based business is the paraphernalia shop Shakedown Street. The family and story behind Shakedown Street are famously heard of because of their touring with the Grateful Dead, a cult rock band, in their hippie van (shown below) along with the shop itself. They sell handmade, local pipes and pieces, as well as decorations, apparel, stickers, incense, and jewelry.

Manager Shy Donly shared many of the same feelings as Davis did, that business has been getting steadier, that they want to sell weed in the future, but policies and jumping through bureaucratic hoops makes it an expensive and difficult decision for the owners to make.

“Joe, one of the owners, has talked about transforming his cottage up north into a stoner haven called ‘Grateful Bed,’” Donly said as she went on to explain more on how the two original owners had a falling out in their marriage and it has also put strains on moving the business forward.

One note that is giving Shakedown Street an edge over other head shops is their tour bus. They used to take out onto tours, shows, conventions, but the bus has since fallen apart and is now used for a different purpose.

After sitting in their parking lot for so long and especially after the vote to change the legality of marijuana smoking, Shakedown Street has since opened the doors to their famously beloved bus to their customers. One is now freely available to go inside, sit in the front or the back, and smoke marijuana while keeping to their “Please Respect The Bus” sign.

Manager Donly also said that the owner is waiting until after all of the laws are final to make any decisions, “they don’t want to jump into anything” since local officials in the past have been wary about them selling tobacco and tobacco-related products.

The business market here in GR, Michigan is not as “wide open” as it is in Canada with the American way of capitalism, larger companies, and more strict law enforcement. But both Donly and Davis said that their businesses’ owners are looking to get their foot in the door as soon as they are able to easily and without breaking any laws.

Shakedown Street has at least a toe in the door by having available space to smoke marijuana because small businesses like these still know that the consumer market is as wide open here as it is in Canada. And Growco does too by having all indoor gardening supplies for small to large gardens minus actual cannabis plants or seeds.