KALKASKA — Kalkaska Village joins a short list of Michigan communities that, starting Dec. 1, welcome a recreational reefer market.
Real Leaf Solutions joins four others in the first batch of adult-use marijuana licenses to get Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs approval Tuesday.
It’s the only in northern Michigan.
“That’s the hope — it’ll be a niche area for us,” said Kalkaska Village President Harley Wales. “We’re excited about that boost to the local economy.”
Wales expects village revenue to top $400,000 per year in licensing and inspection fees alone as other pending operations come online. He hopes, too, that Real Leaf’s weed-centric events bring crowds flocking to other local shops.
Founder Tom Beller, who did not return calls Thursday or Friday, received a recreational event license through LARA. The business runs now under a medical license and has a medical grow operation, Wales said.
Michigan voters approved recreational weed for adults 21 and up by a 56-percent margin in November 2018. LARA opened licensing submissions on Nov. 1, drawing dozens of applications from businesses in the few municipalities that gave weed sales the OK.
The first approvals have already been running medical operations and have gone through extensive inspections, according to Michigan Regulatory Agency Spokesperson David Harns. There’s no cap, he added.
“The only limit comes at the local level — as long as all criteria is met … we’ll issue as many licenses as are allowed,” Harns said.
Other applications — for selling, growing and a near-dozen other aspects — remain pending with LARA. Wales said several grow operations in the village are going through preliminary evaluation with the planning commission now.
It only leaves room to grow.
“I expect it to be quite a draw,” Wales said. “We’re excited Tom got that event license.”
He said Real Leaf’s plan is to bring events like marijuana festivals to the village. He says the first open air festival will come sometime next year, and will be thoughtfully set up to be subtle and separate from the general public.
“It’s cool — kinda like a craft beer festival, only with weed,” Wales said. “I would expect people probably from other states to come if there’s music involved and it becomes a sort-of arts festival that then has the addition of marijuana.”
It won’t have much competition, at least to start.
More than 80 percent of Michigan municipalities have opted out of recreational weed in some or all commercial forms, according to LARA records.
The influx doesn’t come free of concern, though.
That’s especially true in Kalkaska’s schools.
“The issue is, kids are good at — shall we say — finding it and then bringing it to school,” said Lee Sandy, interim superintendent at Kalkaska Public Schools. “And when it becomes more available, it’ll make it a lot easier for kids to take it from their home into the school or into public spaces.”
It’s up to parents to police, Sandy added.
“Some parents will do a good job and we won’t have trouble with those situations, and others probably won’t be good at patrolling their own marijuana,” he said.
But the village is prepared, Wales said.
Donations recently brought a new canine unit for area law enforcement trained with recreational legalization in mind, he said, and the village is preparing to bring in new officers in coming months to better police such events and festivals.
See updates at www.record-eagle.com.