By Chris Walsh
So now what?
That’s the question many medical marijuana professionals in Michigan are asking after the state Supreme Court ruled on Friday that dispensaries are illegal. Theoretically, all of the estimated 75 to 100 dispensaries in Michigan will have to shut down. In reality, whether all, most of some of those MMJ operations actually close will depend on how the state and individual counties/cities respond to the court’s decision.
So far, we haven’t seen mass closures since the court decision. In fact, most dispensaries are taking a wait-and-see approach, as in wait and see if anyone tells them to shut down, and then do so accordingly.
Several lawyers told Medical Marijuana Business Daily that many of the state’s dispensaries will stay open because they are located in areas where there is little political will to prosecute centers. Some of these cities even have laws that allow dispensaries to operate.
“Ann Arbor for instance is very pot friendly,” said Michigan MMJ attorney Josh Jones. “Are we going to see that county or city push to close dispensaries? I don’t think so.”
Other municipalities could look to crack down on the industry, and they would have the legal justification to so. The state also could ramp up enforcement and close dispensaries. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said he will send letters to 83 county attorneys “explaining that the ruling clearly empowers them to close dispensaries and include instructions on how to file similar nuisance actions to close dispensaries in their own counties,” according to a release responding to the court decision.
The upshot is that the state could see a rise in the number of caregivers – who are still able to serve up to five patients and receive compensation – creating “business” opportunities on a nano scale. There currently are 26,000 licensed caregivers in the state. Some of these people make a decent amount of supplemental income (each caregiver can have five patients). A rise in caregivers could also create a bigger market for hydroponics shops and other companies targeting that side of the market. Some businesses are now looking to adapt to the changing conditions. MediSwipe – an MMJ-focused software and services provider that just moved its headquarters to the state – said it will now shift its focus from dispensaries to patients and caregivers.
Regardless of what happens next, this represents the first major setback for the medical marijuana industry in the new year. The tide has changed significantly for MMJ nationwide since Colorado and Washington legalized cannabis. But, as we’ve seen in Michigan, that doesn’t mean the industry is in the clear. There will no doubt be many more bumps – some of them significant – along the way.
Also last week, we wrote about the introduction of two new bills at the federal level that would allow states to set their own marijuana regulations and have the US government tax cannabis sales. Kudos to the lawmakers behind these measures. They are at the forefront of a drive to reform the nation’s approach to cannabis. Don’t expect either of these bills to pass, as there simply isn’t enough support for such drastic change in the halls of power. But this type of legislation will further the conversation and could pave the way for meaningful debate – and changes – in the future.
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