Things were festive at Walled Lake's Greenhouse over the weekend, as a more than steady stream of customers packed the first state-licensed medical marijuana provisioning center in Oakland County. Budtenders were jumping to fill orders for buds, oils, creams, candies, and more for customers.
It's been a long time coming. While Michigan's medical marijuana law has been around since 2008, Oakland County law enforcement took the position that selling it in stores wasn't part of that law and arrested anyone who tried to do that. Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson and Sheriff Mike Bouchard reportedly led a failed last-ditch effort to derail the 2016 laws that set up the new state distribution system. Now with a state license and city permission sanctioned, medical marijuana sales have come deep inside Oakland County.
Owner Jerry Millen and his partners had their city certification three years ago, but unlike other facilities across the state, they declined to open until their state licensing was complete.
"I didn't want to get raided," says Millen, a former Channel 50 sportscaster. "I'm under the microscope, I know that. We have a lot of people in Walled Lake who have been waiting a long time for us to open, and I don't want to disappoint the city. ... The people that run the city have been very progressive-thinking on this."
He's probably right about that microscope. Back in 2010, the county sheriff and prosecutor offices declared war on dispensaries. Sheriffs busted shops, arresting owners who believed they were operating legally under the law. Prosecutors took them to court and used legal machinations to block their ability to use a medical marijuana defense.
Now, nobody at the Oakland County Sheriff's Office seems to want to talk about it. I called up the sheriff's office and was transferred to the Walled Lake Police Department where, I believe, I was mistakenly transferred to the city housing office. The Detroit Free Press reported no response from the county sheriff to several calls.
It seems that the worm has turned in Oakland County, as the most brisk business I have seen in any provisioning center takes place right across the street from a frozen lake with ice skaters and fishing shanties.
Millen says customers have been thanking him for opening up in the county because they are tired of having to drive to Detroit or Ann Arbor for their meds. That situation became an issue for some Detroiters when numerous marijuana retail outlets opened up on their side of Eight Mile Road that catered to the Oakland County market. To many Detroiters, it was another case of suburbanites coming into the city to do their dirt before escaping to their safe havens. Correct or not, that is what they believe.
At one point there were reportedly some 200-plus dispensaries in Detroit alone, while there were none at all in Oakland County. Today the numbers are something like 12 licensed provisioning centers in Detroit and a few dozen more waiting for licenses, compared to a single one in Oakland. No wonder the Greenhouse is doing brisk business. And Millen doesn't expect to have any company on the retail front anytime soon.
"Most of the communities in Oakland County are waiting to see what's going to happen," he says. "We're actually having cities reach out to us, saying, 'We want to come and see how you are doing it.' I think we're doing it right."
That's no surprise. Doing it right has been the mantra of provisioning center owners this past year as they struggle to comply with stringent licensing rules and a Michigan Medical Marihuana Licensing Board that often seems adversarial. Unlike other owners, Millen speaks a bit more freely about what's happening with the new system.
Maybe that's because he's spent a lot of time working with politicians to get the state licensing laws passed, and he feels a change in the air with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in office. In January she suggested the MMMLB allow provisioning centers to stay open without state licenses if they still had active license applications, and to obtain supplies from caregivers rather than only from licensed growers and processors. The board adopted those rules through March in order to allow patients to get medications that wouldn't otherwise be available.
"If we had to rely on the licensed growers, then all we'd have is some flower and a couple of edibles," Millen says. "I wouldn't have been open if the governor hadn't opened it up to the caregivers. There is a huge shortage of product. Luckily, the governor stepped in and said everything is screwed up and the patients need access. She's going to have to extend that March deadline. We're going to have a shortage of product really until the fall."
I couldn't agree more. Even the Canadian legalization — that was supported by the government — vastly underestimated how popular marijuana is. A recent report from 420 Intel, a global marijuana news site, optimistically says the Canadian shortage could be over by the end of 2019.
When you look at Michigan, where the licensing board approach has not been about making sure patients have access to medications, it's no surprise we have a shortage. The board has not had a realistic view of how long it takes growers to get plants mature and harvested. And it has treated caregivers as criminals when it is them who stepped into a supply line void that state legislators ignored and law enforcement fought against for years. In the short term, there is no way to do it well without caregivers in the mix, and in the long term, they need to be welcomed in from the cold.
"There is a lot of R&D that's been done by caregivers," Millen says. "Caregivers have been out there and there are some really good caregiver products out there. There are a lot of ointments, tinctures, flower. Some of the caregiver flower is phenomenal. Right now, we're seeing everything — lip balm, gummies, candy bars, massage oil. There's these great patches, Merry Medicinal patches. We've waited a long time."
In 2010 the headlines were all about county police taking down marijuana sellers in Oakland County. Dispensary owners and marijuana activists were thrown for a loop and playing defense. Now, it seems that everybody but the county police are excited about the county's first state-licensed provisioning center.
The Greenhouse is located at 103 E. Walled Lake Dr., Walled Lake; 833-644-7336; greenhousemi.com.
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