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State moves to expand medical marijuana access

Unlicensed facilities to reopen with untested products

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FRIDAY, Jan. 18 — About 70 unlicensed, medical marijuana facilities can reopen across the state as officials overturn industry regulations, unkink the supply chain and move to bolster patient access in Michigan.

The state’s Medical Marihuana Licensing Board, by a 4-0 vote on Wednesday, authorized dozens of unlicensed businesses — most of them dispensaries — to resume operations as usual. Pot shops were also authorized to stock their shelves with caregiver-grown marijuana amid growing concerns about a statewide product shortage.

“The overarching intent is access for patients,” said Bureau of Marijuana Regulation Director Andrew Brisbo.

Medical marijuana businesses were previously advised to obtain a state operating license by Dec. 31 or close up shop. Continued business wasn’t necessarily illegal, but could pose an obstacle to ever receiving a license at all. And the rules effectively forced all but two dispensaries in Lansing to close their doors while they await a license.

Today’s decision expands the local market and allows an uncertain number of dispensaries to again reopen in the capital city. Lansing’s licensed dispensaries — Homegrown Lansing and Cannasieur — have remained closed amid a product shortage, but regulators also took steps that could eventually allow them to reopen their doors.

Previous rules effectively banned pot shops from purchasing products from anywhere other than a handful of licensed processors or growing facilities. Those reliant on caregiver-grown bud were instead forced to resupply from only 29 growing facilities statewide — and many of them are still months away from a potential harvest.

Today’s decision also helped to expand the supply, again allowing licensed dispensaries to obtain their products from caregivers. Patients need only sign a waiver acknowledging that their medical bud hasn’t necessarily been tested in full compliance with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act, Brisbo explained.

“We certainly applaud the decision to open access back up for patients,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of the newly formed Michigan Cannabis Industry Association. “I’d say what happened was a huge win for patients and all of our members. I thought this resolution was a happy middle ground for everyone.”

Both provisions have a March 31 sunset. Marijuana businesses — in less than two months — will again be expected to obtain a state operating license or close their doors. Licensed shops will also then be required to stock their inventories with other, fully-tested products from state-licensed processing or growing facilities.

By then, officials hope the market will have adequately expanded to meet the statewide demand. Licensing Board Chairman Rick Johnson said he’d be “madder than hell” if the recent rules didn’t make a lasting impact on the industry. Schneider said the future of the market still depends largely on accelerating the state licensing process.

“I think that in a couple months, we’re going to have to reassess the situation,” Schneider added. “I’m grateful for some of the growers and processors that were licensed today but it’s not even close to being enough to supply the market. I’d like to see the department empowered to license some of these businesses for themselves.”

Schneider credits the recent changes to a shift in state leadership under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Cannabis Industry Association officials expected rules to be overturned once Whitmer took office, but Schneider still points blame to the structure of the five-member licensing board for the sluggish pace of the licensing process.

The politically appointed state board — with three Republicans and two Democrats — has been widely criticized for what some believe to be an unfair level of scrutiny when reviewing applications. Schneider said the only way to remove a perception of overly broad discretion would be to eliminate the board format altogether.

“Monthly meetings in front of a board that applicants don’t have a lot of confidence in might not be the best way to go about this process,” Schneider added. “I do think the Bureau of Marijuana Regulation is doing a fantastic job. The change in the administration is only going to allow them to perform at an even better level.”

Brisbo emphasized that patients purchasing caregiver-grown marijuana can still bring the products to a licensed safety compliance facility for independent testing. Dispensaries are still required to immediately log their inventories into a statewide monitoring system and notify LARA of any adverse reactions to their products.

Among other developments at today’s meeting:

● AFG Kush LLC. was unanimously denied prequalification status (a preliminary step to licensure) for a dispensary at 2315 E. Grand River Ave. in Lansing. Another applicant — First Class Inc. — was also previously denied conditional approval from the city of Lansing for a dispensary at that same location.

● Pure Roots LLC. was unanimously approved for prequalification status for a growing facility, processor and dispensary in Keego Harbor. The same company has previously received conditional approval from Lansing officials for a dispensary on Larch Street. The state hasn’t yet ruled on their local licensure.

● SJS II LLC. was licensed 3-1 for a growing operation at 801 E. Howe St. in Lansing. The company was previously approved by the city of Lansing for growing and processing facilities at that location, as well as another grow operation at 2300 Spikes Lane. The state has only ruled on a portion of the enterprise. Board member Donald Bailey voted against the state licensure without providing an explanation.

Visit lansingcitypulse.com for previous and continued coverage on statewide medical marijuana regulation.

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