Friday, September 15, 2017

Medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan hit licensing snag

By Dominic Lynch - September 15, 2017 at 11:21AM

Efforts to sell medical marijuana in Michigan have been caught up in a licensing dispute with the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). At the heart of the issue is confusion over Michigan’s 2016 medical marijuana law as well as how municipalities have been implementing it after a 2007 referendum and a subsequent state Supreme Court case.

In 2007, Michigan voters passed a referendum to allow the sale of medical marijuana in the state. The referendum allowed caregivers to grow up to 12 marijuana plants per patient for up to five patients, but it did not define or lay out a way for the drug to be distributed. Dispensaries opened to connect caregivers with patients.

But a 2013 Michigan Supreme Court decision changed the medical marijuana industry in the state.  In that case, the court ruled that medical marijuana could not be bought or sold in shops. In response, many municipalities licensed “caregiver centers” – essentially store fronts where caregivers and their patients could congregate under one roof. This semantic change was enough to curtail the ruling until 2016.

That’s when Michigan’s legislature passed the Medical Marihuana Licensing Act (MMLA). The law more fully implements the result of the 2007 referendum and Supreme Court decision by clarifying the licensing process for caregivers and dispensaries. Under the new law, dispensaries can apply for one of five new licenses, which the state-run Medical Marihuana Licensing Board then decides to grant, or not.

The current controversy started when two of the five Board members – one a former Michigan State police officer, the other a former speaker of the state House of Representatives – motioned to close all existing dispensaries until Dec. 15, when LARA will begin processing license applications.

But caregivers and their patients expressed concern that closing dispensaries now would cut people off from their medication and urged the board to reconsider the motion.

“The MMLA did not address a transition period” between the status quo and the licensing process, Robin Schneider of the National Patients Rights Association said. “Instead of spending time trying to close dispensaries, the board should focus on implementing a transitional program.”

Amos Mbong, a parent whose daughter is dependent on medical cannabis to treat her epilepsy, expressed concern about the board’s proposal.

“[Shutting] down all dispensaries in Michigan is unethical, costly and medically risky for our 6-year old daughter, Mariella,”Amos Mbong told via email. “She has been depending on High CBD Canabis locally grown here in Michigan for a life-threatening genetic seizure disorder called Pcdh19 Epilepsy …  Locating and purchasing all we need before the shutdown will be nearly impossible and costly.”

On Sept. 12, the board heard from LARA, which had consulted with the Attorney General’s office, that it will not be closing dispensaries until Dec. 15. But, the department noted in a press release, “The intent for the emergency rules is to consider any operation of a facility – that would otherwise need to be licensed under the MMFLA – as a potential impediment to licensure if continued after December 15, 2017.”

In another effort to streamline the licensing process, Democratic state senator Yousef Rabhi from Ann Arbor announced a bill to prevent current dispensaries from being shut down before new license applications can be processed in September. Rabhi’s bill currently has no cosponsors but was introduced to the Senate on Thursday.