BENTON HARBOR — Benton Harbor and Niles are among the 19 cities in Michigan where application fees through the state’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency will be cut up to 60 percent as part of its Social Equity Program.

The Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, approved by voters in November 2018, requires the MRA to develop “a plan to promote and encourage participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement and to positively impact those communities,” according to a news release from the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

“I believe that our Social Equity Program will lead the nation in accomplishing the social equity objectives that Michigan voters assigned us last fall when they passed the adult-use marijuana proposal,” MRA Executive Director Andrew Brisbo said in the release.

The other cities in the program include Albion, Detroit, East Lansing, Ecorse, Flint, Higland Park, Hamtramck, Inkster, Kalamazoo, Mount Morris, Mount Pleasant, Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, Pontiac, River Rouge, Saginaw and Ypsilanti.

The MRA looked at the number of marijuana-related convictions and the poverty rate to identify eligible communities. Cities were selected where 30 percent or more of the residents lived below the federal poverty rate. 

The MRA will take applications for recreational marijuana facilities on Nov. 1.

Before that time, MRA’s team of social equity representatives will visit the 19 cities multiple times to provide educational sessions regarding the program. In addition, the representatives will help people complete the social equity application, which will be used to determine if they qualify for the program. 

Qualifying applicants will receive:

• A 25 percent reduction if the applicant holding majority ownership has been a resident of one of the 19 cities for the past five years.

• An additional 25 percent reduction if the applicant has a marijuana-related conviction.

• An additional 10 percent reduction if the applicant has been a registered primary caregiver for at least two years between 2008 and 2017.