When can we finally buy recreational marijuana in Michigan? 

click to enlarge A line formed when Gage Cannabis Co. opened its doors to the public in Ferndale in September. Even though Michigan voters legalized recreational adult-use marijuana in 2018, it could be some time until sales are allowed.

Courtesy of Gage Cannabis Co.

A line formed when Gage Cannabis Co. opened its doors to the public in Ferndale in September. Even though Michigan voters legalized recreational adult-use marijuana in 2018, it could be some time until sales are allowed.

Last year, after the vote to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana in Michigan was certified, people lined up outside provisioning centers with the expectation that they would be allowed to buy some in those locations — only to find that a state medical certification was still required.

Nearly a year later, folks are still wondering when they'll be able to walk into a store and buy some weed.

The conventional answer to that question is probably sometime early in 2020. That's based on the Marijuana Regulatory Agency's stated plan to start taking applications from businesses that already have medical marijuana business licenses this fall. MRA people have said that they will process these applications with dispatch. And since these already medically licensed businesses have already gone through the rigorous licensing process, it should be quicker and easier than the first time around.

But when you really look at what's going on, it looks like there may be a long wait before any appreciable adult-use commerce takes place. Even as more and more medical marijuana provisioning centers open up, owners still complain that there aren't enough quality provisions for their shelves. When considering adult-use, with a market possibly 10 times that of medical marijuana, where is the supply going to come from?

All the currently licensed growers are growing medical marijuana, including caregivers, who are authorized to grow medical marijuana for patients. It's questionable if caregiver-grown flowers can be sold at all in the licensed adult-use system. For a while, caregivers could sell overstock to provisioning centers, but the MRA stopped that in June. Besides, whether the source is licensed producers or caregivers, it's all medical, and none of that can be sold as recreational pot.

"The MRA rules say if the department decides to allow medical marijuana to be transferred over as adult-use, they can allow it," says Robin Schneider, executive director of the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association. "However, as long as there is a shortage in medical products, they have said publicly that they do not intend to take products away for medical patients unless there is a surplus."

So far there's no surplus in sight. In fact, over the summer, there was a marijuana drought. And anyone who intends to grow licensed recreational marijuana is several months away from having anything on hand to sell. There aren't even any recreational grow licenses granted. A more accurate answer to when Michigan adults will be able to walk into a store and buy some legal marijuana is "who knows?"

"One of the big questions is the supply — there continues to be a remarkable shortage of product," says Mort Meisner, CEO of GROW Cannabis Marketing in Royal Oak. "They've got to get their act together on availability."

That means the immediate look of the state marijuana system is going to look pretty much like it does now for most of the next year. It's not going to be marijuana everywhere at any appreciable level higher than is already the case. That also means a lot of recreational users will continue to use the traditional method of procuring the stuff — the black market.

"It's just failed leadership," says Meisner, whose clients include provisioning centers, growers, processors, and other stakeholders.

Leadership is part of the mix, although it's hard to point an accusing finger at the MRA folks. For one thing, they're bureaucrats and administrators who have to follow the laws and do what they're told by the politicians. For another thing, they just got on the job last spring after the bureau was created by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. A lot of the dysfunction was set forth by the previous licensing board.

And for one last thing, although there's a new governor with a new attitude in Lansing, most of this state legislature is the same Republican majority bunch who would not budge on marijuana legalization before voters forced the issue a year ago. The whole idea of expeditiously making this work would not occur to most of them. That kind of thinking is reflected in the hundreds of Michigan municipalities where authorities have declared there will be no marijuana facilities of any kind allowed.

Come Jan. 1, 2020, the New Year will not bring a new dawn to the Michigan marijuana scene like it will in Illinois, where some 100 stores start selling recreational pot. So what are recreational marijuana users to do if they can't go to the store and buy some weed?

Schneider reminds folks that the legalization law allows folks to grow their own — which is a fix if you thought about it several months ago. Anyone who looks at growing as a solution is in a similar situation as the licensed growers who are not getting to market yet. It takes months to get products out, not to mention that it takes money, expertise, and effort to create an indoor growing environment that produces steadily. And the outdoor environment is not an option during winter.

There are a lot of one-off events that make access easier. The increasingly popular High Times Cannabis Cups are marijuana festivals where adults can stock up on supplies. Other events, such as upcoming Halloween parties, 420 festivals, and the venerable Ann Arbor Hash Bash, are models of how adults can find and procure marijuana. The problem is that one has to wait for something like that to take place rather than heading over to the local store to pick some up.

Unless some kind of rules change comes up, such as letting caregivers back into the legal exchange, we're pretty much looking at the same marijuana scene we have now for most of the next year. Now might be a good time to consider getting a medical marijuana card. Or, a prudent consumer might think about dropping a few seeds in the ground come spring. That way, come next fall, you might be sitting prettier than the state supply system.

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