Michigan police just locked up a grandmother for smoking medical marijuana, highlighting the state's struggles to get its new cannabis regulations underway. Dolores Saltzman, an 80-year-old grandmother living in Central Michigan, was arrested in June for possessing a small amount of pot. Saltzman was a registered medical cannabis patient, having legally received a recommendation from her doctor to help with her arthritis symptoms, but she had let her MMJ card expire.
Michigan police have full discretion over whether to enforce the state's medical marijuana laws to the letter, and Clare County Sheriff’s Deputy Ashley Gruno chose to use that discretion to put this octogenarian in jail for the night. Fortunately, local prosecutors allowed Saltzman a chance to avoid a court date. “Our goal is to ensure that individuals who utilize medical marijuana are doing so legally,” Clare County prosecutor Michelle Ambrozaitis said to FOX 17. “As such, Ms. Saltzman was encouraged to obtain her medical marijuana card and if she did so, the case would be dismissed. She did obtain her medical marijuana card and the case was dismissed.”
Saltzman told reporters that she has gone public with her story in order to encourage Michigan voters to vote yes on a ballot measure that would legalize adult-use cannabis in the state. The grandmother also encouraged the state's other medical cannabis patients to stay current with their registrations in order to avoid unpleasant encounters with local cops. Once she receives her new card, Saltzman will join 289,205 other residents as active participants in the state's medical marijuana program, but issues with Michigan’s new licensing system may put a roadblock between these patients and their medicine.
Michigan legalized medical marijuana back in 2008, but legislators rewrote the law in 2016 to impose a strict new set of regulations. All canna-businesses in the state are now required to be fully licensed, and businesses currently running without a license are being forced to shut down by September 15th. Cannabis attorney Bob Hendricks told Mlive.com that unlicensed canna-businesses are "running a whole set of very serious risks if you operate after Sept. 15," including the “risk of prosecution” and the “risk of not getting a license at all ever."
The state Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation (BMMR) received over 600 applications for official cannabis licenses under their new system, and expected to have these applications reviewed by June 15th. But the state failed to issue even one single license by that deadline due to a backlog of paperwork. The deadline was extended to September 15th, but so far the BMMR has only managed to issue seven licenses. The board will meet once more this month to consider 10 more applications, and next month to consider even more, but have admitted that they will only be able to consider a small fraction of the total applications by the deadline.
David Harns, spokesman for the BMMR, released a statement assuring the state's patients that, despite the backlog, there will be enough licensed businesses to fulfill the demand for medical cannabis. "We fully expect that several provisioning centers will be open throughout the state by Sept. 15, with the ability to sell fully-regulated, safety-tested products to the state's medical marihuana [sic] card holders," he said, Mlive.com reports.
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Even if the BMMR is able to follow through on its promise to award enough licenses by the deadline, industry insiders believe that a supply shortage is inevitable. The new regulations require that all medical cannabis products be fully tested for safety and potency, as well as being registered with the state's new seed-to-sale tracking system. Every element in the supply chain, from cultivators to processors to testers to transporters, must also be handled by a licensed business, and a shortage of licenses in any of these categories will translate to supply bottlenecks.
Rocky Thomas, owner of State Line Wellness Center — which currently serves 3,800 medical marijuana patients — told Mlive.com that he believes that supply shortages will force him to close up shop. "There will be no product for me to legally access, therefore I will just have to shut the door," he said. "It's the cart before the horse." Thomas noted that his patients, 75% of whom are over 50, will be without medicine until the state can resolve its licensing issue.
"They're fighting glaucoma, they're fighting opiate addictions," Thomas said of his patients. "They are cancer victims fighting without chemo — and they're actually winning." Whether or not they can continue winning is now heavily dependent on if the state can resolve its licensing and regulatory issues in time.