A lot of things shifted last week in Michigan on the medical marijuana provisioning center licensing front, and prospects for the marijuana industry in general. At the prompting of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board adopted new rules that will allow provisioning centers that still have applications in process to re-open until March 31. This move allowed dozens of places that had been forced to close down on Dec. 31 to reopen and continue operating. The new MMLB policy also allows the stores to get stock from caregivers in addition to the handful of state licensed growers.
That step brought partial relief to patients who had been affected by the medication shortage brought on by the licensing fiasco the past few weeks. But not everything is as it was.
"We have about half of what we had before we closed," says Christina Montague, owner of the Huron View Center in Ann Arbor. Her place reopened on Jan. 17 after shutting Dec. 31, though she hopes to have a license soon. What she hopes will be the final inspection from the state is scheduled at Huron View for this week. The previous inspection called for an additional outdoor camera.
"We have always been operating within the state system and we're just following the rules," Montague says. "Hopefully when they have their February meeting ... we'll see."
Getting more locations open is one piece of the puzzle. Getting provisions on the shelves is another piece, especially processed products. In addition to that, with the shortage of cannabis products, prices have soared in provisioning centers. Testing and transportation fees have also gone up, putting more price pressure on retailers.
There is still plenty of relief needed out there, but last week's events marked an administrative change in attitude from the top of the administration. Hopefully it's going to trickle down. It's hard to remember former Gov. Rick Snyder ever saying anything about marijuana policy during his tenure. In contrast, Gov. Whitmer stepped out publicly on this issue very quickly. That not only moves the provisioning center issue along, but it implies that there will be a lot more licensed operators in place by the end of March. So maybe the slow roll is over.
"Absolutely," says Robin Schneider, executive director of the newly-formed Michigan Cannabis Industry Association. "This new administration is going to take a more progressive look at our industry and encourage rules and regulations to move the program along, encourage friendlier regulations in the future. Whitmer is very supportive of medical marijuana and even adult-use marijuana. I think her winning the election is something that is already moving to reshape the industry in a positive direction."
The MCIA announced its formation last week at the state capitol on the same day Whitmer announced her proposal. The new group aims to serve as a voice for the medical and adult-use cannabis industry. So far, Schneider reports about 50 businesses have signed on. Every indication is that cannabis businesses need a voice among lawmakers — and last week, lawmakers showed a willingness to listen.
"Our first priority has just been resolved — get the licensed facilities stocked due to the supply shortage," says Schneider. "A new set of rules allow temporary operators to continue operating and allow the dispensaries to stock their shelves with medicine."
Now that businesses will be allowed to do business, the MCIA hopes to help guide how the government regulates that industry. It's necessary for every industry, and doubly necessary for cannabis because so many people still hate the idea of legal marijuana and still work to impair its development.
"We have reform concerns with the licensing process," says Schneider. "We're hopeful that we will get more licensed growers and processors. We've seen a lot of applicants denied for ridiculous things. We want those applicants to have their due process. ... We'd like them to scale back some of the questions that they're asking applicants that, in our opinion, do not pertain to whether or not an applicant should be qualified."
That seems a difficult task given the way things have gone, but Schneider has been around this issue and around Lansing for a good decade. She was a fundraiser for the Proposal 1 adult-use effort and has worked with patient advocacy organizations. She also sees a need for a place where folks in the marijuana business can network and share ideas, and follow through on the social justice end of legalization. That would include expungement for some people who have been convicted of marijuana crimes.
Beyond that, with adult-use marijuana coming into the picture, there are a whole lot of pitfalls that plagued the medical systems development that we need to avoid this time around. For instance, even with the emergency rules allowing provisioning centers to get supplies from caregivers into March, there is still going to be a shortage then. In order for a licensed grower to have product grown and processed in March, they had to have received a license and started growing back in October. The time frame varies a bit based on strain and growing conditions but it takes about four months.
There just weren't that many licenses handed out in October for growers to have enough product flowing through the system by the end of March. It's probably going to take something like a year — provided enough growers get licensed. There are still a lot of bumps in the road ahead. However it looks like, finally, the governor is not one of those. And just like she promised to fix the damn roads, maybe the potholes in the marijuana system can get filled in.
Related Reminder: If Michigan city councils ban marijuana shops, residents can bring the issue to the ballot
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