Sept. 14 2017 01:04 PM

'Business risk'

Pot dispensaries opened after Dec. 15 face ‘impediment’ to getting licensed

Any medical marijuana facility operating after Dec. 15 is doing so at its own risk.

That’s the message from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and the state Medical Marijuana Licensing Commission.

“The department will not shut down facilities,” Andrew Brisbo, director of the Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation in LARA, told the commission Tuesday afternoon. “However, continued operation would be a business risk as the operation could be shut down by law enforcement and could be an impediment to licensing.”

That moves concerns Lansing resident Teisha Doyle. She uses various forms of the medicinal plant to treat chronic pain resulting from a serious car accident that left her with a metal plate and screws holding her spine together.

“What am I supposed to do after that?” the 42-year-old asked during a break. She held up a copy of the Lansing State Journal and waved a story around about a woman held against her will for three days and repeatedly sexually assaulted. The woman, according to the story, had gone over to the home to get marijuana from a basement grow operation.

“That could happen to me,” she said. “I use a cane. I am vulnerable, and now you want me to go to somebody’s house I don’t know and talk to them about my medical issues?” Another concern for her, she said, was accessing all the forms of marijuana that she uses to control her pain. “I don’t just use the flower,” she said. That’s the part of the plant associated with smoking. She noted she uses tinctures and medibles as well as different strains of the plant to address her concerns. “No caregiver can provide all those needs for me,” she said.

Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, who attended the commission meeting, said the state’s move to request marijuana businesses to wind down by Dec. 15 or face an “impediment” in obtaining a license could negatively impact patients.

“I don’t see them issuing licenses on Dec. 15,” Swope said. “That seems to leave a whole lot of people without access.”

Commission member Donald Bailey, a retired Michigan State Police sergeant, stoked fears last month during a commission meeting when he appeared to call for the wholesale shutdown of all medical marijuana business operations in the state as soon as Friday.

Bailey tried to push that move through the commission on Tuesday, but Chairman Rick Johnson, a former state House speaker, withdrew his support for the motion, effectively killing Bailey’s move. Instead, the commission deferred to the rule-making authority granted to the bureau under state laws.

Pushing his point, Bailey told the crowd of about 250 he would not support any license applicant that operates after the date.

“It’s a violation of the law, it has been,” explained Bailey, who was heavily involved in drug investigations for the MSP during his career.

He alleged that the medical marijuana industry was involved in “significant diversion” of pot to the black market “in Michigan and the Midwest.”

He is correct that dispensaries are illegal. In 2013, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, approved by Michigan voters in 2008, did not authorize dispensaries. Under that ruling, the court said, only caregiver to patient transfers were legal. Last year, the state Appeals Court added that patient to patient transfers were also prohibited. The courts have also ruled that preparations meant for edibles and tinctures were not covered by the law.

As a result, the Legislature adopted a package of laws late last year that authorized the licensing of five types of marijuana facilities, as well as explicitly allowing for preparations like extracts for the edibles market.

Those laws goes into effect Dec. 15.

That’s also when the state could begin accepting license applications in all categories. However, it remains unclear when licenses will be issued by the state.

For Swope, who has been tasked by a city ordinance passed last week to develop a regulatory and licensing scheme for Lansing, Dec. 15 date seems to be a date from which he will work backward in figuring out when to open applications and when to issue licenses in order to prevent the city from being the “delayer” in local businesses obtaining state licenses.

A bureau official, speaking on background, said it was unclear if “impediment” meant a definitive rejection of an application or if it would be taken into consideration along with other as yet undetermined criteria. That same official indicated that even if Lansing has its licensing scheme up and running, the new state law requires a marijuana operation to have licenses from both the local municipality as well as the state; so the person referred back to Brisbo’s original statement where he called continued operation after Dec. 15 “a business risk.”

As state officials begin processing emergency rules, which will serve as the basis for the final administrative rules governing the issuance of licenses, it is also struggling with what the costs for the applications and administrative fees will be.

Brisbo said that’s because the fees will be established in part as a result of the costs the state will incur in public meetings, investigations of applications and other administrative operations.

As a result he said the application fee will range from $4,000 to $8,000. The cost for administrative fees could be as low as $10,000 to upward of $57,000 a year. Both sets of costs will be determined in part by the number of applicants involved.

That comes on top of the $5,000 application fee the city established last week.