The Slow Movement Toward Marijuana Sales in East Lansing

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Thursday, March 26, 2020, 1:15 pm
Chris Gray

Skymint’s East Lansing location, under construction, in a photo by Gary Caldwell.

Skymint kicked off its recreational marijuana sales in Ann Arbor, a city known for its long counter-cultural history. But the company now operates a total of seven medical marijuana provisioning centers around Michigan, and is hoping to open in East Lansing soon.

At least until the stay-at-home order, Green Peak Industries, Skymint’s parent company, had been busy constructing what will likely be the first marijuana provisioning center to open in East Lansing. The company is building a stand-alone location at 3315 Coolidge Road, north of Kroger and Meijer, just south of Coleman Road.

“We can’t wait to serve the cannabis curious and marijuana enthusiasts alike at our recreationally licensed East Lansing Skymint store later this spring,” said Jeff Radway, CEO of Green Peak Industries. “In the meantime, recreational customers in the greater Lansing area will find a full selection of flower, tinctures, concentrates, vapes and edibles at our Cedar Street location.”

That Lansing Skymint store, opening this week, is licensed for both “medical” and “recreational” sales – and, yes, it can make sales during the pandemic; Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “stay at home” order allows for marijuana provisioning centers to keep operating as “essential businesses” according to mLive, with curbside service and home delivery.

The City of East Lansing requires a separate Special Use Permit for the sales of “medical marijuana” and “recreational marijuana.” Five properties in East Lansing, including the one on Coolidge Road, are currently approved for medical marijuana provisioning. But none are yet approved for recreational sales.

Green Peak’s application to sell recreational marijuana at Skymint’s coming Coolidge Road location had been scheduled for a public hearing at East Lansing’s Planning Commission for March 18. But that has been pushed off indefinitely due to the local state of emergency order.

Looking to make pot more culturally palatable

In the meantime, Skymint is doing what it can around Michigan to change the perception of marijuana businesses as sleezy and unwanted.

Ann Arbor’s Skymint conducts its marijuana business out of a dated 1972 vintage strip mall on the south side of the city off Industrial Highway, an address that lives up to its connotation.

The University of Michigan football stadium is nearby, but this corner of Ann Arbor is far from the posh bustle of downtown or campus life. Industrial Highway is geared more toward warehouses and government offices than foot traffic.

Next door to Skymint is the Stadium liquor store, offering consumers a mind-altering substance that’s been legal since the end of its prohibition in 1933.

As I discovered when I journeyed to Ann Arbor before the stay-at-home order took effect, a customer who walks into the liquor store near the Ann Arbor Skymint is bombarded by commerce and lowbrow products, including ample junk food. But walking into Skymint is like walking into an exclusive club or a day spa.

The interior is designed to feel high-end – minimalist and futurist. Everyone must show identification, verifying they are of legal age to purchase, and then sign in with an Apple iPad.

The cannabis merchandise is kept behind a second, steel door and much of it behind glass display cases. On the right hand wall are the vaping products, on the left hand side, the edibles, along with a marijuana cookbook from Snoop Dogg, the rap legend known almost as much for his love of pot as his rhymes.

Skymint’s East Lansing location on Coolidge Road features big windows and wood accents (photo by Gary Caldwell).

On the back wall are myriad tinctures, marijuana-themed books and cannabidiol, or CBD, treats for dogs. But in the center is the main event, the dried flowers or bud of the cannabis plant, which can be rolled into a joint or smoked in a pipe or bong.

Prices are steep and more than twice the cost of marijuana on the West Coast, which has a more mature legal market. A gram costs $23 with tax, and the standard dime bag — one-eighth of a U.S. ounce, or 3.5 grams — costs close to $70 with tax.

A pair of budtenders, obviously passionate about their mind-altering plant and its byproducts, point me to various strains of cannabis, which have been cultivated for wide-ranging flavors from peppery to earthy to citrus. I pick a “watermelon” strain; it had a refreshing fruit scent despite containing no actual watermelon.

The potent strain comes with a written reminder to partake safely — at home, with plenty of snacks, and never to smoke and drive.

I give the budtender named Larry exact change. Because marijuana is still federally illegal, customers must use cash to pay. An ATM stands ready in the lobby for customer convenience.

Five marijuana-sales locations approved in East Lansing, but none open

Back in East Lansing, while Skymint takes shape on Coolidge Road, a second shop called Pleasantrees is expected to open up at 1950 Merritt Road. That location has a welcoming sign and some plywood up, but appears less far along than Skymint. The parent company, RJB Enterprises, has also applied to sell recreational marijuana.

Three other shops have permission to sell medical marijuana, but it’s unclear when (or if) those will open.

The formerly public property at 2040 Merritt Road — the subject of that million-dollar eBay land sale — has approval for a marijuana provisioning center, but the property is up for sale (now at the lowered price of $5 million, down from an original ask of $12 million).

The approved property at 1415 Michigan Ave., the site of an old car dealership, shows no signs of progress.

CA-East Lansing, Inc. — the company that owns the fifth site, at 1234 E. Grand River Ave. — recently received a revised site plan approval from East Lansing for its marijuana provisioning center. That site is closest to the hub of university activity and holds the permit that’s been the most fought over.

CA-East Lansing, Inc., owns the fifth site in East Lansing (1234 E. Grand River Ave.) that has been approved for the sale of recreational marijuana. (Photo by Raymond Holt)

But CA-East Lansing doesn’t seem to be getting close to opening, and City staff confirmed last month that building permits had not been pulled. That company is now also seeking permission for recreational sales.

The industry has been slowed by a shortage of marijuana in the state, as well as state regulations that favor keeping an ample supply for medicinal use above meeting demand for recreational marijuana. All that helps explain the high opening price for recreational pot.

A spokesperson for Skymint said the company has been able to avoid some of those challenges through vertical integration with its own grow warehouse in Dimondale in Eaton County.

But it takes more than supply to get material to customers. And right now, with the pandemic delaying construction and permitting, it’s hard to say how long it will be before anyone can legally buy marijuana in East Lansing.

Alice Dreger contributed reporting on the East Lansing properties that have permits for marijuana sales.

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