Marijuana companies raise issues with scoring process | News

MENOMINEE—Fire Station Cannabis Co. received the perfect score of 50 points it hoped for on its application to operate marijuana stores in Menominee after the Marijuana Rubric Scoring Committee boosted its score by four points Thursday.

“I’m very happy the city corrected their administrative error” and revised the company’s score, said Fire Station Cannabis Co. chief executive Logan Stauber. “We put the energy and effort into getting there.”

The committee, composed of City Engineer and Public Works Director Tricia Alwin, Interim City Manager and Police Chief Brett Botbyl and Fire Chief Mark Petersen, also upped the score for Green Pharm to 45 from 43. The scoring committee members agreed to provide the same ratings and scores for the companies.

The committee’s decision Thursday to award Fire Station four points for constructing a new facility gives Fire Station the same score as Attitude Wellness, which plans to operate under the name Lume Cannabis Co. in Menominee. Lume received a score of 50 on Tuesday when the scoring committee met and revealed the rubric scores for each application. Thursday’s meeting allowed companies an opportunity to appeal their scores.

Scores for most other applications remained the same, despite the companies’ efforts to persuade the committee to reconsider point deductions. Many applicants left the meeting frustrated and several people suggested companies will file lawsuits based on what many said were ambiguities in the scoring rubric.

What qualified as demonstrated experience in a regulatory industry was an issue for Joni Moore, owner of Ottawa Innovations LLC and Higher Love LLC, who has previous experience in health care, a regulated industry. She was manager of the Keweenaw Memorial Rehab and Fitness Center, now Aspirus Health, a state-licensed hospital, but wasn’t given the two points for this experience.

Moore’s applications also failed to earn the six possible points for using and improving an existing building. Moore brought poster-size plans showing proposed improvements to an existing building at 3120 10th St., but the committee did not change the application’s score. Moore told the committee she disagreed with their decision.

Representatives from most companies applying for marijuana store licenses complained about their scores Thursday, with many focused on the language in the rubric, particularly as it described structures or facilities.

“It’s a flawed rubric and I’ve never seen a building that has both renovation and new construction,” said Eric Kennedy, co-founder and chief operating officer at Highwire in Adrian, Mich. “The fact the MRA (Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency) is only going to issue a license to one building—it sounds like it doesn’t work,” he said. Highwire didn’t attempt to earn all 11 points in the economic impact section related to facilities.

“They’ve got to clarify the rubric and it’s got to be a level playing field,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think anybody with the City of Menominee has evil intentions. They’re trying to do the right thing and they’re getting bad guidance.”

Kennedy said he wouldn’t be surprised if the city council “just rescinds the entire ordinance.”

A better selection process might be to put the names of all qualified applicants in a hat and draw out those that will receive licenses, Kennedy said.

Here’s how it might work: “You’re an established company already. You have no ordinance violations. You’re not delinquent on taxes … Have them apply and then pull names out of a hat. It’s very simple,” Kennedy said. “But they can’t do it now because (the scores are) already out there. That’s a problem,” he said. “Everybody’s already lining up to litigate.”

Interim City Manager and Police Chief Brett Botbyl said the next step in the process for recreational or medical use marijuana retailers is for the scoring committee to present the applicants’ scores to the Judicial & Legislative/Personnel & Labor Committee, which likely will recommend which companies should receive licenses to operate marijuana stores in Menominee. According to the marijuana ordinance, “The city council reserves the right to grant or deny licenses regardless of scoring rank.”

Fire Station Cannabis Co. might have received new points because it presented a copy of email correspondence between the company and former Menominee City Manager Tony Graff, who responded Jan. 27 to the company’s question, “Does a new addition to a currently standing building count as a ‘new facility?’ Or does a ‘new facility’ in this context mean a complete construction of a full, brand new building?”

Tony Graff responded by email then, “Yes an addition does meet the definition of new facility/construction.” This component of the rubric was worth four points. But it took repeated efforts on Fire Station’s part to persuade the scoring committee to honor Graff’s response and award those points.

Lume also received full points on the application, but some people suggested the company wasn’t completely transparent.

News of an ordinance violation Lume reportedly received in February 2020 in Adrian, Michigan, raised new questions. The City of Adrian reportedly suspended Lume Cannabis Co.’s medical marijuana permit Feb. 17, 2020, after it put up signs using the word “cannabis,” in violation of a city marijuana ordinance, according to the Daily Telegram.

Kevin Blair, an attorney at Honigman LLP, insisted Attitude Wellness/Lume, which completed the Menominee application, wasn’t the same as Green Sunrise Products, which was doing business as Lume Cannabis Co. in Adrian.

“Legally, Attitude Wellness is the legal entity that applied in Menominee and they have zero zoning violations,” Blair said. But there is some ownership overlap, he said.

Ryan Hermes, a communications strategist at Bryum & Fisk who handles public relations for Lume Cannabis Co., told the EagleHerald Tuesday, “Attitude Wellness is the name of the legal entity doing business as Lume Cannabis Co.” The stores in Menominee are to be called “Lume,” he said.

A sentence on the Menominee application rubric states, “Application has no ordinance or state law health department violations or zoning ordinance violations within the past 3 years.” No points were deducted on the application submitted by Attitude Wellness/Lume Cannabis Co. in this category.

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