Local officials are beginning to decide if they want medical marijuana businesses in their communities before the state starts giving out licenses next year.
LANSING — Existing medical marijuana dispensaries will get a reprieve from getting immediately shuttered, but they will harm their chance for a license from the state if they continue to operate past Dec. 15, the state Department of Licensing and Regulation said today.
At a meeting, Andrew Brisbo, director of the state’s Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, told the board that will start handing out medical pot business licenses next year that the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has the sole authority to set the rules that govern the dispensaries now and in the future.
“The department will not shut down dispensaries, but it will be a business risk for them to continue to operate because they could be shut down by law enforcement and it could be an impediment to getting a license,” Brisbo said.
LARA, in consultation with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, said the department will put emergency rules in place and that any dispensary that is operating after Dec. 15 — the date the state will begin accepting applications for licenses — will jeopardize its chance for a lucrative state license in the future.
“This approach will allow existing operations to wind down while also giving adequate time for patients to establish connections to caregivers to help ensure continuity of access,” LARA said in a statement.
Brisbo said by mandating a gradual shutdown of the dispensaries until licenses become available, patients and dispensaries won’t be forced into looking for or selling marijuana products on the black market.
Two members of the five-member licensing board — chairman Rick Johnson, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, and retired Michigan State Police officer Don Bailey — said they still want dispensaries shut down sooner.
“I understand that LARA thinks that Dec. 15 is the appropriate date, but my date is Sept. 15,” Bailey said. Operating a dispensary now “is a violation of the law, it has been. I’m not going to support someone who stays open.”
The rest of the board, however, supported LARA’s decision.
“My thought is we’re here to make decisions regarding (licensing)…tnot whether we should be shutting down facilities,” said board member Vivian Pickard.
Patients who use dispensaries for their medical pot, as well as the couple of hundred dispensaries around the state, have been worried that a closure would not only harm the business side of medical marijuana, but put patients in jeopardy by cutting off their supply.
“Some of the most vulnerable patients are the ones who depend on the dispensaries,” said David Crocker, a doctor from Kalamazoo who helps patients fill out the paperwork for a medical marijuana card. “If the dispensaries are closed down for an extended period of time, there will be people who will suffer.”
And many at the meeting were concerned about the prospect of losing dispensaries, even for a few months. LARA has estimated that licenses won’t be issued until some time in the first quarter of 2018.
“I have 2 rods in my spine, I have been forced to rely on dispensaries because without access to medicine, I can’t get out of bed,” said Jason Durham of Lansing. “Cannabis has given me an active life back. If you reduce our access, where do you want us to go, other than the black market?”
Nathan Oakes, a U.S. Marine veteran who manages a dispensary in Detroit and who has a medical marijuana card, said that the people who are providing safe access to medical marijuana are the heroes.
“They should be praised, not penalized,” he told the board. “Plenty of times, I considered taking my own life and I can tell you that medical marijuana has saved my life.”
The licensing board will be issuing five categories of licenses next year — for growers, processors, transporters, testing facilities and dispensaries.
Jerry Millen, a licensed caregiver from Hartland who grows and provides medical marijuana to five patients, is ready to go with his dispensary business — The Green House in Walled Lake. He has a license from the city of Walled Lake and a store front near downtown. But he’s decided to wait to open for a number of reasons.
He wants to avoid a conflict with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department, which has actively shuttered dispensaries in the county. And he wants to stay in good standing with the state in order to get a dispensary license.
“I get a lot of people hitting me up to open, but I feel it’s important to do it right,” he said, adding he has no problem with the dispensaries that are already operating.
“The patients need the medicine and there needs to be a transition,” Millen said.
Contact Kathleen Gray: 313-223-4430, [email protected] or on Twitter @michpoligal
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