‘So many things can go awry’ with Michigan’s medical marijuana plan

By John Schroyer

A sudden declaration Tuesday morning by Michigan regulators that all medical marijuana dispensaries statewide should start preparing to close by Dec. 15 made one thing clear:

The next steps for Michigan’s existing MMJ businesses are more akin to a traffic roundabout than an obvious road forward.

“You have a lot of things that could happen. There’s so many things that can go awry,” said Rhory Gould, the CEO of Arborside Compassion, a longtime medical cannabis dispensary in Ann Arbor.

Michigan’s medical cannabis industry has been in a near-constant state of flux for quite some time.

A few years after the state first legalized MMJ in 2008, a Michigan appeals court ruled dispensaries that had cropped up were technically illegal, and subsequently, many either quickly developed close relationships with local governments – thus protecting the businesses from law enforcement – or were targeted by police.

In 2016, Michigan lawmakers finally agreed upon a regulatory framework for the industry – the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act (MMFLA) – and since then, businesses have been prepping for the transition.

Now they’re in the thick of it, which means Tuesday’s development was cause for both relief and consternation among the state’s MMJ businesses.

Wait for it

For example, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) also said that by November it will develop “emergency rules necessary for the implementation” of the MMFLA.

“We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen leading up into November when they come up with this plan,” Gould said. “Right now, I plan to stay open, to take care of patients.”

“I see an extension here, is what I see,” Gould said, referring to the state’s Dec. 15 closure deadline.

LARA’s announcement followed a discussion by the agency’s Medical Marihuana Licensing Board (MMLB) about the immediate closure of every MMJ dispensary in Michigan.

There was even uncertainty among board members during the MMLB’s four-hour-plus meeting, which included emotional testimony from dozens of pro-MMJ residents who pleaded for dispensaries to remain open.

One board member repeatedly asked when dispensaries could be allowed to reopen if they do close by Dec. 15.

“Our initial estimate was we wanted to be able to issue licenses by the end of March or early April,” Andrew Brisbo, director of the Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation, said amid catcalls and boos from the audience.

Michigan now potentially faces an MMJ industry shutdown for four months or longer – though many doubt every dispensary will abide by LARA’s wishes, especially given that many have operated in the illicit market for years already.

And even if law enforcement tried to close every dispensary, attorney Matt Abel said many would just relocate and reopen, as they have for years.

“It’s like Whac-A-Mole. You shut some down, and they open right back up,” Abel said. He added that the current situation demonstrates a “huge gap” in the 2016 state law – the lack of a blueprint for transitioning existing MMJ companies into a regulated market.

Timeline unclear

Brisbo also emphasized during the meeting that the licensing timeline is tentative and could change depending on how many business license applications the department receives starting in December. He said the biggest time suck will be background checks for owners and managers of license applicants.

That leaves possibly hundreds of dispensary owners in the lurch. (Michigan has no official tally of operating dispensaries.)

Some owners, like Gould, have the backing of municipal officials who may be able to support them in a bid for a state license even if they defy LARA and keep serving patients after Dec. 15.

That’s in part because LARA’s announcement Tuesday stipulated that ignoring the deadline would be a “potential impediment to licensure” – not that continuing operations would kill an existing dispensary’s chances of getting a state license.

“For all I know, after the 15th, they might extend it so we can take care of patients,” Gould said. “It’s their move first. Once they make their move, we can figure out what we’re going to do.”

Jamie Lowell – founder of Third Coast Compassion Center in Ypsilanti – said Monday he also is planning to continue operating because he has the backing of his municipality.

Others in the Michigan industry may decide to be more cautious, however.

One Detroit dispensary, The Reef, told multiple Michigan news outlets it planned to close until it obtained a state license because it didn’t want to jeopardize the opportunity.

More potential changes

Jenn Zielinski – a cannabis industry lobbyist who attended Tuesday’s MMLB meeting – said there are several possible ways the next few months could play out, including potential intervention by Michigan lawmakers.

“It was mentioned during the meeting that a legislative ruling on this would certainly preempt LARA from having to make those decisions,” she said, “so I’m sure there are a lot of folks in the room that are definitely pondering that and how do they start lobbying and advocating.”

Zielinski also said it’s unclear whether local government ties – such as those held by Gould and Lowell – would be a game changer during the licensing process.

” … If the operator is complying with laws that a local municipality has, why should that be a black mark?” Zielinski asked. “That’s certainly something that was brought up and discussed. Again, just wheels turning for the board and some consideration for (LARA).”

Zielinski’s takeaway: There’s a host of questions about the workings of transition to a state regulatory system, and answers aren’t coming immediately.

“It’s baby steps, and until we can hear the next meeting (Oct. 17) – where those conversations head today and where they develop – it’s anybody’s guess” as to how the licensing process will play out.

Almost lost in Tuesday’s discussion were proposed licensing fees for MMJ businesses, which LARA said will vary depending on how many applications are submitted. Application fees alone will range from $4,000 to $8,000, and annual regulatory assessment fees will cost MMJ businesses $10,000 to $57,000.

John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]

One comment on “‘So many things can go awry’ with Michigan’s medical marijuana plan
  1. William Clark on

    No one should promote the canard that marijuana is socially undesirable, or dangerous–inherently toxic–like pharmaceutical drugs. Or even that it is a ‘drug’, except in Merriam-Webster’s third and broadest definition, as something which affects the mind. By that definition, religion and television (‘the plug-in drug’) should also be included. In truth marijuana is a medicinal herb, cultivated, bred, and evolved in service to human beings over thousands of years.

    “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that had two enemies: the anti-war left and black people. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting people to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, break up their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” –John Ehrlichman

    Prohibition of marijuana is a premise built on a tissue of lies: Concern For Public Safety. Our new laws save hundreds of lives every year, on our highways alone. In November of 2011, a study at the University of Colorado found that in the thirteen states that decriminalized marijuana between 1990 and 2009, traffic fatalities dropped by nearly nine percent—now nearly ten percent in Michigan—more than the national average, while sales of beer went flat by five percent. No wonder Big Alcohol opposes it. Ambitious, unprincipled, profit-driven undertakers might be tempted too.

    In 2012 a study released by 4AutoinsuranceQuote revealed that marijuana users are safer drivers than non-marijuana users, as “the only significant effect that marijuana has on operating a motor vehicle is slower driving”, which “is arguably a positive thing”.

    No one has ever died from an overdose of marijuana. It’s the most benign ‘substance’ in history. Most people—and particularly patients who medicate with marijuana–use it in place of prescription drugs or alcohol.

    Marijuana has many benefits, most of which are under-reported or never mentioned in American newspapers. Research at the University of Saskatchewan indicates that, unlike alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or Nancy (“Just say, ‘No!’”) Reagan’s beloved nicotine, marijuana is a neuroprotectant that actually encourages brain-cell growth. Researchers in Spain (the Guzman study) and other countries have discovered that it also has tumor-shrinking, anti-carcinogenic properties. These were confirmed by the 30-year Tashkin population study at UCLA.

    Drugs are man-made, cooked up in labs, for the sake of patents and the profits gained by them. Often useful, but typically burdened with cautionary notes and lists of side effects as long as one’s arm. ‘The works of Man are flawed.’

    Marijuana is a medicinal herb, the most benign and versatile in history. In 1936 Sula Benet, a Polish anthropologist, traced the history of the word “marijuana”. It was “cannabis” in Latin, and “kanah bosm” in the old Greek and Hebrew scrolls, quite literally the Biblical Tree of Life, used by early Christians to treat everything from skin diseases to deep pain and despair. Why despair? Consider the current medical term for cannabis sativa: a “mood elevator”. . . as opposed to antidepressants, which ‘flatten out’ emotions, leaving patients numb to both depression and joy.

    The very name, “Christ” translates as “the anointed one”. Well then, anointed with what? It’s a fair question. And it wasn’t holy water, friends. Holy water came into wide use in the Middle Ages. In Biblical times, it was used by a few tribes of Greek pagans. And Christ was neither Greek nor pagan.

    Medicinal oil, for the Prince of Peace. A formula from the Biblical era has been rediscovered. It specifies a strong dose of oil from kanah bosom, ‘the fragrant cane’ of a dozen uses: ink, paper, rope, nutrition. . . . It was clothing on their backs and incense in their temples. And a ‘skinful’ of medicinal oil could certainly calm one’s nerves, imparting a sense of benevolence and connection with all living things. No wonder that the ‘anointed one’ could gain a spark, an insight, a sense of the divine, and the confidence to convey those feelings to friends and neighbors.

    Don’t want it in your neighborhood? Maybe you’re not the Christian you thought you were.

    Me? I’m appalled at the number of ‘Christian’ politicians, prosecutors, and police who pose on church steps or kneeling in prayer on their campaign trails, but cannot or will not face the scientific or the historical truths about cannabis, Medicinal Herb Number One, safe and effective for thousands of years, and celebrated as sacraments by most of the world’s major religions.

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