As Michigan Fumbles With Medical Marijuana, Voters Want Fully Legal Weed
Michigan's transition from a lightly-regulated medical cannabis program to a tightly-controlled system is causing headaches for dispensaries and customers.
Published on September 12, 2018

A medical marijuana dispensary in Ypsilanti, Michigan; photo via smontgom65

Over the past two years, Michigan officials have been working to implement a new set of regulations to reign in the state's once-unregulated medical cannabis industry. The process has suffered a number of setbacks, as many medical marijuana dispensaries currently operating in the state have been struggling to comply with the new rules. This week, the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) released a set of emergency regulations that will give many of these businesses another chance to complete their applications, while forcing others to close for good.

The Great Lake State legalized medical marijuana back in 2008, but like California, the program was lightly regulated until recently. In 2016, legislators passed a law imposing a number of new rules, which also required all currently-operating medical cannabis businesses to submit new applications by this past February in order to stay open. The state Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation (BMMR) received around 600 applications, which they intended to sort through by June 15th, but backlogs of paperwork prevented them from issuing even a single license by the deadline.

The state extended the deadline until September 15th, but regulators have still only approved 37 licenses as of this week, and LARA has now released another set of emergency rules to resolve the issue. Dispensaries that submitted their initial application in February, got approval from their local government, and then submitted their second application in June, will now be allowed to continue operating until December 15th. This decision will allow a total of 108 canna-businesses to continue operating until the licensing process is hopefully wrapped up by the end of the year.

While the new regulations are giving some dispensaries a second chance at success, other marijuana companies are being forced to close. Next week, the state is sending cease and desist letters to 98 dispensaries who submitted their initial applications in February, but have not followed through with the subsequent process. The emergency rules also require businesses that are approved for licenses to pay their $48,000 regulatory assessment within 10 days of approval. Out of the 37 businesses that have already been approved, only 10 have paid their fee so far.

Last month, BMMR executive director Andrew Brisbo said that the state would not be extending its deadline beyond September, but said that he relented this week after state legislators expressed their concern over patients losing access to their medicine. “This extension focuses on ensuring access,” said Brisbo, the Detroit Free Press reports. “We’re trying to move the process along.” LARA spokesperson David Harns told The Detroit News that the new rules “will help maintain patient access to their medicine both now and over the next three months. Everybody has the ability to operate under the same framework for three months and then everybody moves into the same framework in December.”

Although state regulators will hopefully finalize these new medical marijuana regulations by year's end, it’s looking increasingly likely that they will soon be going back to the drawing board to create regulations for recreational sales. This November, Michigan voters will decide whether to legalize an adult-use recreational market in the state, and recent polls are showing strong support for this measure. 

A survey conducted last week found that 56.2% of likely voters were firmly in favor of full legalization, with only 6% undecided. “What’s interesting is how consistent these numbers have been over two years,” Richard Czuba, pollster for the Glengariff Group Inc., told The Detroit News.  “There are hardly any undecided people left on this issue. It’s baked into the electorate.” With this strong show of support, chances are looking good that Michigan's residents will be able to get legally baked in the very near future. 

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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