GRAND RAPIDS, MI — When Casey Kornoelje was an adolescent, he was arrested for growing marijuana. The resulting felony conviction has haunted most of his professional career.
It thwarted his attempts to join the armed services and resulted in lower wages and job discrimination, he said.
But nearly 19 years later, Kornoelje has become the first Grand Rapids resident to own and operate a recreational marijuana dispensary in the city.
“I don’t know that when I was in a jail cell and locked up, I didn’t foresee that someday that that inequity would come full circle to allow me to push me toward the industry,” he said, “nor did I really think I really had a chance to participate in the market, given the organizations and well-funded groups that are in town. Am I surprised? Extremely. Am I thankful? 100%.”
Kornoelje opened PharmHouse Wellness at 831 Wealthy St. SW in March as a medical marijuana provisioning center. It was the city’s second, and the first owned by a resident.
He has lived in Grand Rapids for about 10 years.
On Wednesday, Dec. 16, Kornoelje achieved another milestone in the city’s budding marijuana industry. He became the first resident to own and operate a recreational marijuana dispensary, now that PharmHouse Wellness also offers adult-use sales.
“It’s a complete honor to hold that presence in that space to be a locally owned and operated facility,” he said. “My family has been here for multiple generations, so to have this business here in Grand Rapids, it’s hard to put into words. It’s a complete honor, though, and I just couldn’t be more thrilled to be here.”
PharmHouse Wellness is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays. The shop has about 30 strains of marijuana flower, with a growing list of about 15 to 20 offered to recreational customers.
Breaking into the city’s marijuana industry as a local isn’t as easy as setting up shop.
The price of real estate in the city, as well as high demand for those limited properties where marijuana businesses are allowed, has proved a barrier for many small-timers.
“The biggest issue that I’ve heard of or encountered is an extremely competitive environment from out-of-state and out-of-city operators,” Kornoelje said.
“If you’re a local or cottage industry operator, you’re going up against individuals and corporations that have much deeper pockets than you, and so I think that puts a lot of the local residents at a disadvantage.”
Kornoelje said he believes the city did their best in trying to help locals get a leg-up in the industry but failed to anticipate the level of demand from outside businesses.
If they could do it all over again, he suggested the city limit the number of marijuana licenses per business to one or two.
At least one company was granted licenses to operate eight separate marijuana businesses in the city. A full list of license holders was not immediately available.
Earlier this year, city leaders approved a “social equity policy” that prioritizes applicants who are local, have a marijuana conviction, have been impacted by a marijuana conviction, are below the median income and more.
Because Kornoelje is a social equity applicant, he is afforded roughly $50,000 to $100,000 in annual savings on recurring state and city application fees.
“My commitment to the city of Grand Rapids is to reinvest that money right back into this neighborhood,” he said. “I’m not taking a trip to Jamaica; I’m not going to Saks Fifth Avenue. I’m taking those savings, which are pretty substantial, and putting them right back into this little block and reinvesting in Grand Rapids because I believe in Grand Rapids.”
Some of those neighborhood improvement investments include, but aren’t limited to, home ownership training, expungement programs, business and home facade block grants and transit and safety improvement plans in front of the dispensary, he said.
Kornoelje urged people to shop local for their cannabis.
“I hope that people will vote with their dollars and support local cannabis,” he said. “It means an extremely large amount to us to have that local support. When you support our shop, you’re supporting a young family and you’re keeping those dollars in the city.”
PharmHouse Wellness has about 23 employees right now. That number is expected to grow as Kornoelje expands in the growing and processing side of the industry next year.
PharmHouse Wellness is the city’s third recreational marijuana shop.
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