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Governor Whitmer Abolishes Slowing Moving Medical Marihuana Licensing Board

The same election that allowed for recreational marijuana also provided for a new governor and a different party holding many of the highest offices in the state.  Newly elected Governor Whitmer was an advocate for recreational marijuana before and during the election and since being inaugurated has not deviated from that support.

March 1st, Governor Whitmer signed an executive order to abolish the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board created under the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act. This is the Board which has been in charge of approving or denying applications for licenses for medical marijuana businesses. The order establishes the Marijuana Regulatory Agency which will be housed within the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). The existing Board is scheduled to hold two more meetings before the date it is to be abolished, but it is not known if these meetings will actually be held.

The newly formed agency combines previous authorities, functions, and duties into a ‘modernized process’ which allows for The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to regulate medical marijuana more effectively and to lend their expertise to the up-coming recreational marijuana industry as well. The newly created  Agency will take over licensing for both medical and recreational marijuana, and the Board will be abolished April 30, 2019.  This is a significant change as previously no one had the authority to regulate recreational licensing.

Addressing the inadequacies of the Board, Governor Whitmer said, “This executive order will eliminate inefficiencies that have made it difficult to meet the needs of Michigan’s medical marijuana patients.  All elements of this Agency have been designed to serve and better protect Michigan residents, and I am eager to have a unified effort across the state departments to make sure this process runs effectively and efficiently.  I appreciate the productive input I’ve received on this important issue, including from Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey”.

Board Member Donald Bailey, a retired police sergeant from Traverse City was consistently one of the Board members who opposed many of the applications.  His reasons for denial were sometimes as trivial as minor incidents with the law that occurred many years ago, and in some instances, the applicants' charges had been dismissed.  Bailey feels the move to abolish the Board was purely a political move and that “Public safety just took a huge hit”, indicating that he does not feel the new Agency will effectively vet applications for licenses.

The other side of the argument from another law official is from Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton, who said, “The new system allows for more predictability, which will ultimately enhance public safety and keep our communities safe.”

The volunteer Board, which was appointed by, and made up of, nominees from Republican politicians, has faced problems since its inception in May 2017.  The board has been slow to approve applications which, in turn, slowed down what should be a strong and blossoming marijuana market. This is concerning especially in light of the recreational licensing that will need to be done shortly to ensure the black market is not allowed to grow in Michigan.

The Board, since July, has only approved 121 licenses. Of these 121 approved, 105 have paid their regulatory assessments and actually been awarded a license.  Among these approved licenses are 31 growers, 11 processors, 54 dispensaries, 4 testing labs, and 5 transporters.

When Board was created it was only given the authority to provide for licensing for medical marijuana facilities, not recreational.  This omission, along with the slow-moving board, caused many to wonder if the recreational marijuana industry would have the opportunity to even get off the ground.

The residents of the state were told to not expect recreational businesses to open until January  2020, allowing for time to get the licensing framework and infrastructure in place. As mentioned above, the existing Board is in place until April 30.  Crops take approximately 6 months to mature, leaving just two months to be able to get licensing completed and businesses approved for businesses to be able to be operational by January.  That is a big task. I hope the new Agency is able to do this to meet the needs of potentially the second largest marijuana market in the United States.

Connie Maxim-Sparrow