Kalamazoo marijuana dispensary plans expansion as state threatens shutdown

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Jevin Weyenberg, owner of Lake Effect marijuana dispensary in Portage, sat in the upstairs boardroom of the business, where maps of Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and other places color-coded with zoning regulations were being hung on the wall. 

The medical marijuana company is planning to expand in Kalamazoo and considering some additional locations while facing uncertainty as the state threatens to shut its dispensary down. 

The city of Kalamazoo approved a Class B Grower/Processor license for Lake Effect at 2927 Millcork Street, near other industrial businesses, where he and his associates plan to grow up to 1,000 plants in a 35,000 square-foot facility. Weyenberg estimates the grow will employ at least 100 people once it is running at full capacity. 

Lake Effect has also been approved by the city of Kalamazoo for a processing center at 3635 E. Kilgore Road, in a building not far from the airport, near other industrial enterprises, and near the Kalamazoo County Road Commission building. The business plans to make marijuana edibles and extracts there, Weyenberg said, and it will employ about 10 people. 

The applications are now waiting for state approval before plans can move forward. Industrial areas make sense for the facilities because marijuana must be grown indoors because of Michigan's climate, and should be grown in large quantities because the demand is huge, he said.

Lake Effect is one of several medical marijuana businesses working toward opening in Kalamazoo under Michigan's updated rules for marijuana businesses. 

Weyenberg first entered the industry after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2013. He tried marijuana to ease the symptoms brought on by heavy doses of chemotherapy, he said, calling a friend he had not spoken to in years to get some to smoke. "Hey man, I got cancer and I'm really sorry to bug you," he remembers saying.

The difference was "day and night," Weyenberg said, wearing a blue Lake Effect with his last name and "420" on the back. "As soon as you smoke some cannabis with all that nausea, with all that chemo that you have inside you, your nausea goes away right away, your appetite comes back pretty quickly after that and your pain goes away," he said. "I could eat, I could conversate with my family."

When he was finished with the treatments, he started to work on his business plan. He continues to fight to bring legitimacy to the industry that sometimes gets a bad rap. 

"It's a great medicine which is being realized across the country should have been realized a long time ago," he said. He holds classes to help educate people about marijuana and the industry and spends time telling politicians about the needs of patients and how they need a commercialized industry to meet the demand.

He was appointed to the governor's Marihuana Advisory Panel in July, and part of his role on the board is to be a patient advocate, working to facilitate access to medical marijuana.

Weyenberg says he prefers people call it "cannabis" instead of marijuana, noting the years of misunderstanding connected to the name and the substance. One of the biggest misconceptions that remains today, he said, is that cannabis is just about smoking.

He showed a variety of products that Lake Effect offers including vaporizers, wax, lotions, tinctures, edibles and more. He showed how a lotion can be applied to treat pain in a specific spot on the body, while smoking, vaporizing or ingesting typically affects the whole body.  Vaporizer pens are a convenient way to take a small dose of cannabis that can help many patients, he said. 

Some products are advertised as "non psychoactive" because they don't contain THC, the main active ingredient of marijuana, but instead contain CBD, which is also derived from marijuana, but does not produce the euphoric high.

Jars of cannabis labeled with names like Sunset Sherbet, God's Gift, Alien Rock Candy and Booberry Crunch sat inside a glass case on the wall of Lake Effect as Weyenberg gave a tour of the products offered. The jars are also labeled with the ailments the cannabis inside each is intended to treat, from insomnia and PTSD to pain and nausea.

The extracts and other products generally sell more than traditional marijuana and offer a variety of ways to use the medicine, he said. Weyenberg still believes more are needed to meet the demand of patients and encourages other dispensaries and marijuana businesses to open in the area.

People in the industry are driving changes, he said.   "We have to have help from the state governments and local governments and everything is being pushed from the bottom up as well. Nothing's coming from the top down, which makes it even harder," he said. 

The state continues to have the final say of who can or can't operate a medical marijuana business. Existing dispensaries are operating under emergency rules in Michigan and the industry is still not accepted despite being around for years, he said.

Weyenberg said he sees progress, but he feels there are still attitudes hanging around from decades of attacking marijuana with a criminalization-first approach. 

"Every patient and even anybody in a business entity is treated like a second class citizen, and then that's not right. It's gotta change," he said. "And that's what I tell them, we shouldn't be treated like second class citizens. Our medicine shouldn't be treated inferior to other people's medicines that they choose to use."

Despite being tapped by the governor, Weyenberg's business isn't immune from state regulators.  Lake Effect's existing dispensary at 8314 Portage Road in Portage was given notice on Sept. 10 that its application was denied, according to LARA.

The prequalification application was "denied under section 402(3)(a) of the Act. Consideration of the integrity, moral character, and reputation of the applicant."

The Medical Marihuana Licensing Board discussed the case before voting to deny the application. A member of the board alleged the business participates in the recreational market, noting that Lake Effect won an award from High Times' Cannabis Cup in June 2018. A member of the licensing board also mentioned a lawsuit against Lake Effect, which had been dismissed in recent weeks before the denial was issued. 

"We are the furthest thing from a recreational store that there is," Weyenberg said, reacting to the board member's comments. Weyenberg said the business is appealing the board's decision would have a chance for a second appeal if it is denied again. The dispensary can stay open until Dec. 15, he said in September.

However, a new rule filed by LARA on Oct. 1 that says some dispensaries will have to close by Oct. 31, could further impact the Portage business, Weyenberg said on the day it was filed, after speaking with the business' attorney. 

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