SOUTH HAVEN — It has taken nearly a year for a local business to receive the green light to test medical marijuana within the city limits, but it finally happened this week.
South Haven City council members this week voted to create a medical marijuana overlay district east of Blue Star Highway to allow New Age Laboratories to test cannabis. The only no vote was cast by council member Letitia Wilkins, who has consistently gone on record against letting any type of marijuana-related enterprise locate in South Haven.
For New Age Laboratories owner Scott Wall, the council’s decision came as a welcome relief.
“I thank the planning commission for their work (in crafting a medical marijuana ordinance) and the council’s work,” he said. At a planning commission meeting earlier this month, Wall estimated that five new jobs will be created at his laboratory in the Interstate 196 Business Park if he is allowed to add the testing of medical marijuana.
In making their decision, council members and Mayor Scott Smith stressed the overlay district is limited to just medical marijuana testing facilities. No other cannabis-related businesses, such as grow operations, provisioning centers or processing facilities, will be allowed in the overlay district.
“Tonight we are only talking about testing,” Smith said.
Council members could have allowed testing facilities to locate in a second district that was being considered – an industrial area south of Aylworth Avenue in the city’s Ward 1. In fact the original ordinance that was drawn up proposed the creation of an overlay district for both east of Blue Star Highway and south of Aylworth Avenue. But council members nixed the Aylworth area, mainly because of concerns expressed by residents that marijuana businesses would increase drug abuse and crime in their neighborhoods.
“I remember concerns by citizens of Ward 1 and I have to weigh that,” council member George Sleeper said.
“I understand Ward 1 has an issue,” council member Chris Campbell said. “We have to pay attention first to people who live there.”
Council member Steve Schlack agreed, but also said that sometime in the future it may make sense to consider allowing medical marijuana businesses south of Aylworth Avenue.
“South of Aylworth isn’t really different than east of Blue Star,” said Schlack, in regard to the Aylworth area being zoned for industrial and commercial uses in a manner similar to the I-196 Business Park.
At least one business owner in the Aylworth industrial area hopes the council will add it to the overlay district and that the area won’t be limited to just testing facilities.
Earlier this year, Will Rogers moved the North American headquarters of HTS Direct from Grand Rapids to a building at 1310 Kalamazoo St., which he renovated for not only his own business but for prospective new ones, as well.
HTS is a supplier of hydraulic jacks built in Germany and shipped overseas to clients in North America.
Monday evening Rogers told council members he has two businesses that would like to lease space in his building at 1310 Kalamazoo St. to establish medical marijuana-related companies.
“We have an opportunity to lease 4,200 square feet of space for a medical marijuana provisioning center and an additional 7,000 square feet of space to a hemp processor, which is another part of cannabis industry,” Rogers said. The two companies, he went on to say, would create nearly 70 new full-time jobs, with pay ranging from $20 to $30 an hour.
But whether the council will take up this issue or expand the overlay district remains to be seen.
“Tonight we’re only talking about a testing facility,” Smith told Rogers. “Hopefully, we’ll be sitting down soon with our economic development folks and make sure we’re showcasing your facility to a broad audience.”