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Michigan Regulators Brace Themselves for Rush of Medical Marijuana Applications

The state is planning to close existing MMJ dispensaries until the new licenses are granted.

by Chris Moore

Michigan regulators are bracing themselves for a flood of applications from entrepreneurs hoping to become a part of the state's fledgling medical cannabis industry. The state licensing department will begin offering applications to dispensaries, cultivation facilities, processors, testing facilities, and transportation services as of December 15th. The Michigan Medical Licensing Board expects to begin granting these licenses to the winning applicants early next year.

Shelley Edgerton, director of the state's Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, recently spoke at a public meeting to answer questions posed by individuals interested in getting involved in the lucrative new industry. "We may have 50 [applications]. We may have 1,500. We may have 5,000," she told the audience, according to Detroit Free Press. "But we've had close to 1,000 people who have signed up for our training. So we envision a large number of applicants on the first day."

One of the most pressing concerns addressed at the meeting was the fate of the state's current medical cannabis dispensaries, which will be forced to close until the state grants them their new licenses. Under Michigan's original medical marijuana law, patients were only allowed to source their cannabis products from licensed caregivers, who could provide cannabis to five patients each.

To address the difficulty in finding local caregivers, numerous medical cannabis dispensaries opened across the state, illegally selling medical cannabis to those in need. Last year, the state completely revamped their medical cannabis regulations in order to allow dispensaries to legally sell cannabis, but have demanded that these existing dispensaries shut down until the new license system has been worked out.

For many of the state's 200,000-plus registered medical marijuana users, the prospect of being cut off from their medicine for an unspecified period of time is a frightening one. In response, bills have been introduced in both chambers of the state's legislature that would allow current dispensaries to remain open until the new licenses are granted.

Carla Boyd, board member of the Michigan Epilepsy Foundation from Grand Rapids, testified before the Senate Michigan Competitiveness Committee last week, warning legislators of the dangers of abruptly cutting epilepsy patients off from their medicine. "You just can't abruptly stop [taking] any anti-seizure drugs," she explained. "If you shut down existing dispensaries for any amount of time, people are going to end up in the hospital, I promise you that."

Opponents of these new bills have argued that dispensaries that are operating illegally do not deserve allowances from the state to continue operations. "This gives a carve-out for people who knowingly are breaking the law," said Steve Linder, a political consultant representing entrepreneurs looking to break into the industry. "Everyone feels compassion for people who need access to medicine. But it's a patient's responsibility to find themselves a caregiver."

Regardless of the opposition, state Sen. Mike Shirkey believes that both the Competitiveness Committee and the full Senate will take action on the bill sooner rather than later. "This was an unintentional oversight when we passed the comprehensive legislation last year," he said. "But this is not going to drag out. It's not going to linger."

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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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