FRIDAY, NOV. 9 — The uncertain future facing license-pending medical marijuana dispensaries will continue to hang in the balance, at least over the weekend, while a judge mulls over arguments at today’s hearing on a potential statewide shutdown.
After a four-hour hearing, Michigan Appeals Court Judge Stephen L. Borrello opted to uphold a recent order allowing for the unfettered operation of more than 200 dispensaries across the state. He hopes to finalize a more permanent ruling “soon” but didn’t set a deadline.
“I just need to think about it a little longer,” Borrello explained.
The hearing was scheduled in response to recent lawsuit levied against the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs by First Class Inc., a company representing medical marijuana interests in Jackson County. The city of Lansing also pitched in a few attorneys after Borrello merged its similar suit with that of First Class Inc.
Borrello ruled that a temporary restraining order he issued last week will remain in effect until further notice. And that order effectively prohibits LARA from enforcing any sort of deadline on the temporary operation of hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries, including the eight shops that still remain in the city of Lansing. The affected dispensaries are ones that are waiting for decisions on their applications by the state Medoca; Marihuana Licensing Board.
That previous order arrived just hours before all unlicensed dispensaries were previously ordered to close by Oct. 31. Attorneys with First Class Inc. argued the deadline was arbitrary, capricious and in “direct contravention” of the purposes of the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act.
Borrello’s order suggested the state was likely to lose the case. This evening, the burden of explaining otherwise fell entirely on officials from LARA, which imposed the deadline. State attorneys suggested the date was designed to transition the industry into a fully regulated system and ensure the integrity of the licensing process.
They also argued the deadline was set, at least in part, because Medical Marihuana Bureau Director Andrew Brisbo felt there were enough licensed businesses to ensure adequate medicinal access to patients. But First Class Inc.’s president, Eric Kanaia, in sworn testimony solicited earlier today, strongly argued otherwise.
Kanaia contended about 300,000 medical marijuana cardholders who reside throughout Michigan will each blow through, on average, about one pound of marijuana every year. That equates to about 1.25 grams — or about two moderately sized joints — for each cardholder every single day of the year.
He suggested the 12 licensed marijuana growing facilities throughout the state are only capable of collectively producing about 12,000 pounds each year. That means the statewide market, if every growing facility is able to keep up with Kanaia’s estimations, is only capable of providing an adequate supply for about 4 percent of patients.
Attorneys argued that imposing an operational deadline, while the industry remains in its infancy, would drastically curb patient access and pose an undue burden on temporarily operating dispensaries that haven’t yet had time to make it through the state’s licensing process.
The city of Lansing argued somewhat similar concerns.
City Attorney Jim Smiertka contended Lansing simply can’t keep up with the rapidly changing deadlines from state officials. No local dispensaries have been able to receive a license because applicants who have been denied need to be able to find space in the limited, 25-dispensary economy — the cap imposed y the City Council — should their denials eventually be reversed.
He said Lansing had came to depend on a previously established Dec. 15 deadline outlined in prior rules.
The curbed deadline came as a shock to city officials, who were only made aware of the change through a press release, explained Deputy City Attorney Heather Sumner. Smiertka also noted that every dispensary in the city would have been forced to close if they were required to abide by the previously established Oct. 31 deadline.
Borrello’s order still remains the only mechanism allowing Lansing dispensaries to remain operational over the weekend. State courts facilities are also slated to be closed on Monday in observance of Veterans’ Day.
Visit lansingcitypulse.com for prior coverage and continued updates as they become available.