The path of medical marijuana regulation in Michigan is a road full of potholes. Since 2008, many local governments have struggled to enact ordinances to control medical marijuana production, safety and sales. Starting in December, the state will begin accepting applications for medical marijuana dispensary licenses.
No one really knows how many medical marijuana dispensaries exist in the state of Michigan. From actual brick and mortar storefronts to home-based enterprises, pot shops are growing like...well, weeds. It’s an industry in flux.
Regulating this market is no easy feat. But there’s some relief on the horizon. In December, the state will begin accepting applications for medical marijuana dispensary licenses. It’s part of a series of reforms signed in 2016 by Governor Rick Snyder aimed at standardizing the protocol of pot.
Cannabis Legal Group founder and principal Barton Morris says the new law will end the “wild west” mentality that prevails in the industry.
“Everybody’s paying taxes, people are buying tested, safe medicine and caregivers would be sent back to the scenario where they can grow, but only for their patients, not for everybody,” says Morris.
Morris says licenses will apply not just to dispensaries, but also processors who extract the chemical THC for other cannabis products as well as testing labs.
The demand for licenses in Michigan could be impressive, and most producers view the new mandate as a breath of fresh air.
“Everyone is really, really ready to get into this,” says Robert Carp, a Boston-area attorney specializing in cannabis law. “They see it as a level playing field in an entrepreneurial situation with a tremendous upside. So a lot of people are looking at this...this is the next Internet.”
Carp says his advice for Michigan entrepreneurs is to ensure they fully comply with the law, because the state will be watching for those who don’t.
“This is brand new, lots of people have misgivings, not sure how it will work, they want to know people will comply,” Carp says. “They’re worried about diversion. They want to ensure stuff goes out the front door, not the back door.”
Licensure is a certainty for medical marijuana dispensaries. However, a separate development could further alter the industry in Michigan. There’s an effort underway to legalize recreational, or so-called “adult use” marijuana in the state. A coalition of groups is trying to put the issue on the November 2018 ballot.
Robert Carp has seen that scenario, too. He’s from Massachusetts, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2016. Even so, the state is taking it slow and erring on the side of caution.
Carp says while it is legal to grow marijuana in Massachusetts, selling it for recreational use is on hold. Lawmakers are still grappling over the finer points of the law...so for now, pot shops in the Bay State can’t open their doors until 2018.
As Michigan watches for Massachusetts to act, entrepreneurs might take heed of the pitfalls experienced in other states that have legalized recreational pot.
Pamela Epstein is the founder of Greenwise Consulting. She’s an environmental law attorney who practices in California, a state she says is experiencing some regulatory growing pains.
“They’ve tried to put Pandora a little bit back in the box,” says Epstein. “They had a near two-decade run of, shall we say, loose regulation.”
Epstein says Michigan providers would be wise to build a strong, well run medical marijuana system as a framework for a recreational marijuana program, if voters should approve such a measure in 2018.
“It’s going to take on a lot of the same characteristics,” she says. “You’re going to want to ensure the same requirements for safety, testing, the license types...all of those things are going to be very similar. So, if you do it very well and get it right the first time, this will just be a natural progression.”
If one day Michigan should recreational marijuana the green light, medical dispensaries and retail shops would operate in parallel, with two sets of regulation. Medical dispensaries would also be eligible to apply for a recreational cannabis license.