By Jim Newell
A new $40 million marijuana business park is coming to Orion Twp.
The Oakland Business Park, the first of its kind in Oakland County, will be located on Premier Drive off S. Lapeer Road (M-24). The cannabis operation is run under the umbrella of the Oakland Business Park.
Developers and township officials had scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony for Tuesday, but heavy rains the day before postponed the event.
Plans include a 288,000-square-foot complex with three buildings, which will house growers, processors, secure transporters and safety compliance tenants, according to a press release form GROW Cannabis Marketing, a Royal Oak-based company.
The first building is expected to be completed by the end of the year and leases have already been signed for about 75 percent of the space. The development is expected to “create hundreds of new jobs in Orion Twp. in a safe and secure environment for commercial cannabis operations,” according to GROW.
Gov. Rick Snyder signed the Michigan Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act in September 2016; however, a 360-day delay was built in to give the state time to put in place a regulatory system.
Under Michigan law, medical marijuana facilities are legal. A ballot proposal in the Nov. 6 general election will ask voters to decide on whether or not to approve recreational use of marijuana, which would be regulated similar to alcohol.
The development comes after the Orion Twp. Board of Trustees approved the second reading of the Medical Marijuana Ordinance 6-1 during its Nov. 6, 2017 meeting. Clerk Penny Shults voted “nay” in both the second and first readings of the ordinance. Treasurer Donni Steele also voted against the ordinance’s first reading.
“Yes, we opted in last fall. It’s legal and there’s going to be places around us that have it,” Barnett said.
The facility should generate $250,000 – $300,000 in annual permit fees alone for the township, Barnett said. The township will also get Excise Tax sharing from the state.
There are five categories that municipalities could opt into and allow in their communities – growing, processing, testing, transportation and dispensaries. Orion Twp. opted into four of the five categories, choosing not to allow provisioning centers, a.k.a. dispensaries.
“I’m personally not inclined to promote a dispensary at this time,” Barnett said.
Under Orion Twp.’s ordinance, the township will allow up to six Class C grower licenses, two processors, two safety compliance facilities (testing) and two secure transporters, according to information compiled by the state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation.
The Oakland Business Park uses three of the township’s six available grow licenses.
“When we passed the ordinance, we had only one public comment which was, ‘That’s great, but where can people buy it if they want it?’” Barnett said.
Barnett also said Orion Twp.’s ordinance is more restrictive than many, and does not permit signs, facilities cannot be close to churches or schools and must be in industrial zoned areas.
Township officials have “met with 30 groups this last year” interested in developing some sort of marijuana facility in Orion Twp. “When they found out how restrictive our ordinance was, most of them haven’t come back,” Barnett said.
To provide ample power, DTE is building an on-site substation with two 13.2 kV circuits.
Barnett said he is aware that having a marijuana growing facility in the township doesn’t please all citizens.
“The pros outweighed the cons (in approving the grow facility) but there’s a stigma with marijuana,” he said. “They’re paying their full taxes. A lot of businesses that develop in the township, we give them tax abatements for investing here. With medical marijuana we don’t.”
Barnett added that the township has the authority to inspect the facilities “24/7, 365 days a year” and take appropriate action.
“If we don’t like it we can shut them down,” he said, adding the Oakland Business Park developers presented a professional plan and are adhering to the township’s ordinances.
“They want to be here, so they want to be model citizens. They want to run a professional business, he said. “Everybody I met and sat with was professional. This is not Cheech and Chong.”
Safety is another concern for the township.
“I’m in favor of the medical marijuana (facility) because it’s going to shut down the illegal growers,” Barnett said. “We have had two house fires in the past year that were caused by people who were growing it in their homes.”