The City Of Kalamazoo Still Hasn't Voted On Marijuana Sales. Here's Why.

Mar 2, 2020

Marijuana plants in Akron, Ohio in January 2019
Credit Tony Dejak / AP Photo

When Michigan voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2018, Tyler Dornbos was excited. He says he can’t buy the drug where he lives in Jackson County, so he’s been shopping elsewhere – including at a newly opened provisioning center in Battle Creek.


On a recent afternoon, Dornbos walked out of the store with a marijuana cartridge. “Everything inside is super-professional,” he said.  “Anything that you need, they have it.”

A similar sale could not yet happen in the City of Kalamazoo, even though sales of marijuana became legal in Michigan in December. That’s because cities and townships get to decide for themselves whether to allow people to buy the drug. While Battle Creek has said yes – and so, recently, did Kalamazoo Township – the City of Kalamazoo is still making up its mind. Kalamazoo City Attorney Clyde Robinson says a couple of factors led the city to postpone a vote on sales.

First, Robinson says that after legalization, it took the state a while to make rules. “We were working without a net in terms of what the regulatory framework was going to look like. We had the statute but the statute is not an ideally drafted law either,” Robinson told WMUK.

Robinson thought the state law needed more work before the City of Kalamazoo could depend on it. But in Battle Creek, City Planner Eric Feldt says the city was comfortable with the state standards.

“The framework that the state provided was satisfactory to then build upon and then put in some procedures at staff level and zoning buffers and standards to ensure that any negative impacts would be reduced or at least mitigated,” he said.

Marijuana at Lake Effect, a medical dispensary in Portage. Like Kalamazoo, Portage has not voted on whether to allow recreational sales.
Credit Ben Gretchko / WMUK

But there’s another reason Battle Creek is ahead of Kalamazoo. It has to do with the state’s efforts to remedy inequities from the past when pot was illegal. The state says some communities suffered more than others. They saw more arrests and prosecutions. Now the state wants to make sure they can benefit from the legal marijuana economy.

“Kalamazoo is one of those communities. There’s about 40 across the state, which include at least in this area South Haven and Niles,” Robinson said. “But I can tell you Battle Creek and Grand Rapids are not disproportionately impacted.”

So Battle Creek has it slightly easier than Kalamazoo, which is seeking state help to reverse those effects.

Kalamazoo is taking steps toward a decision on adult-use marijuana. It recently held public forums on sales. Robinson hopes to get draft ordinances to the City Commission by early May. Portage, which is also on the fence on marijuana sales, is likely to vote on an ordinance by the end of May.