Michigan’s emergency cannabis rules expired at the end of 2018 forcing all unlicensed medical marijuana dispensaries to close while they await their business licenses. As of December 1st, the permanent regulations went into effect however there were no provisions regarding temporarily operating while waiting to obtain a license.
Over 70 medical marijuana dispensaries shut their doors indefinitely after December 31st, vastly limiting access for medical marijuana patients. Cannabis businesses were required to submit their applications for a business license by February 15th, 2018 to be considered for a license.
The executive director for Michigan NORML, Matthew Abel, noted that, “They can proceed with the licensing process, assuming that [they began] the licensing process by last February.” However it seems that the delays could be related to a lack of prioritization for cannabis licenses. Medical marijuana dispensaries that were already operational seem to have been bulked in with all applications.
Abel went on to say that, “The state needs to expedite the consideration of the applications, … and maybe they should consider those temporary operators first—let them jump the queue, as it were, to be first in line. But other people who completed their applications earlier and who have never opened would object to that. We just need the state to be more aggressive in considering the applications, and frankly, the Republicans who were in charge, in my opinion, were slow-pedaling this the whole licensing process.”
The new Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, took office January 1st and wasted no time in appointing a new director to the Bureau of Marijuana Regulation formerly the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). The first monthly licensing meeting of 2019 will be held on January 16th where officials are expected to issue more licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries.
The transition from the emergency regulations to the permanent regulations was far from seamless and the licensing rollout was poorly planned. Abel remarked that, “Yeah, there are some dispensaries, but a lot of them are going to have quite limited product availability for several months, it looks like, because they really should have licensed the growers first and then the processors and then the dispensaries; some of the dispensaries are owned by companies that are vertically integrated, where they’re not going to sell their product to any other dispensaries.”
One of the big concerns about the abundance of closures is that medical marijuana patients will attempt to acquire their medication outside of the regulated market. Regulators are worried that this could potentially result in patients using cannabis that has been untested. This is the very scenario that officials are trying to prevent but without adequate access patients will find other ways to medicate.
Matthew Abel summarized the current situation stating, “Eventually, the supply will catch up with the demand, but I think it’ll probably take a whole year and by then, we’re going to have increased demand because at that point, the retail stores will be hopefully open. Right now, the only people who can go into a dispensary are medical patients. So, even though adult-use is legal, there’s no way to buy it."