When it comes to medical marijuana, what are Michigan’s lawmakers smoking?

When it comes to medical marijuana, what are Michigan’s lawmakers smoking?
Courtesy photo

The Michigan Medical Marihuana Licensing system is evolving into a confusing, mind-blowing regulatory nightmare.

Medical marijuana has been legal in this state for 10 years, and the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act was passed in September 2016. Now, consider that, after all that time, in a couple of weeks (on June 15), according to the Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation (BMMR), any currently operating marijuana facility must have a state license in order to legally stay open. (Update: On Wednesday, LARA announced an extension to operate until Sept. 15.)

That's fine, except the state hasn't given out any licenses as of this writing.

According to David Harns, public information officer with the state Bureau of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), "We expect to be handing out licenses within the next few weeks. Most likely at the June 11 meeting [of the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board]."

Talk about running things up until the last minute!

The BMMR — could this be an acronym for bummer? — created this whole scenario by setting the deadlines and setting up an application process that is so cumbersome to all involved that none of this can get done by the self-imposed deadline.

That means dispensaries, provisioning centers, or whatever you want to call them, may or may not have licenses to operate come June 15. Not only that, any licenses handed out may go to facilities that are not currently open. That would create a huge gap in service to patients while newly licensed facilities ramp up their operations.

If the state were interested in patients having uninterrupted access to medication, it might make sense to move the deadline back a little. After all, it is the BMMR that set up a bureaucracy involving so much red tape that it was impossible for applications to be processed in the allotted time.

According to Harns, the deadline is not moving. And that's where the real mind-fuck kicks in. Harns says that if already operating facilities are showing a "good faith" effort to become licensed, they don't need to worry about LARA. A recent advisory from LARA read: "While the ultimate licensure decision is made by the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board, LARA does not currently intend to issue cease and desist letters, or refer to law enforcement" marijuana stores that continue to operate past the deadline.

LARA's decision not to go after unlicensed stores that are making a good faith effort to become licensed is sensible; it's like moving the deadline back — by not enforcing it.

But then LARA points out that LARA is not making the decision about who gets licenses. So if you decide to continue operating, the Licensing Board might hold it against you.

"The Licensing Board has ultimate authority," Harns says. "They may choose to consider unlicensed activity when looking at the licensing criteria."

Basically LARA is saying that there's a deadline, but if you don't adhere to it, we don't care, but those other people over there who actually make the decision on whether you get a license might care — or they might not.

That's a hell of an advisory.

Not only is that a confusing pile of hooey, it sets up the possibility for unequal application of the rules. If the Licensing Board can choose to consider that in one case and not in another, then that sets up legal challenges that will last forever. If they couldn't decide if "unlicensed activity" counts against an applicant after all this time, then the consideration should be thrown out the window.

Even at this late juncture, Harns threw out a lot of "the board may do this" or "the board may do that" scenarios, finishing with, "Those are a lot of mays. I can't speak definitively for those board members."

That's a lot of uncertainty for everybody concerned, especially patients. For instance, once growing licenses get handed out, it is a fact of nature that it takes several months to grow a plant to maturity. Add on some time for transporting and processing and inspecting, and it means that it will probably be 2019 before this whole thing really gets rolling.

Harns points to the caregiver system to keep patients supplied. "That has not changed at all," he says.

That's nice. But, first of all, there are a lot of people who thought they were going to grow their own marijuana who have thrown in the towel because getting consistent results and maintaining a constant supply is harder than they thought it would be. Second, anyone that needs oil for seizures or cancer treatments depends on a much more sophisticated process than the average caregiver can handle. And, third, this stuff has been legal here for a decade, dude — get it together and roll out the system!

The whole thing stinks of a state government that has not made a good faith effort to make this system work and won't move forward without watchdogs nipping at their heels. It's taken an army of activists and lawyers to get things to this point.

It also seems that it's going to get uglier before it gets better, as we see who will actually get licenses and who will get their dreams smashed on the rocks.

CBD is marijuana

CBD (cannabidiol), one of the many compounds in marijuana, has developed a high profile the past several years due to its usefulness in reducing seizures for epilepsy patients. It's been marketed by some companies as legal, because it's extracted from hemp, the strain of cannabis used to make textiles and other products. It's also been embraced as "the part of marijuana that doesn't get you high."

On May 11, LARA put out an advisory that erased any doubt you may have about our state government's attitude toward CBD. In part, the advisory read: "The possession, purchase, or sale of marihuana or any marihuana product — including CBD — must be done in compliance with the MMMA and MMFLA."

That means CBD is marijuana too, and will be treated as marijuana for legal purposes.

The advisory goes on to define what is marijuana for purposes of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act:

• all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., growing or not

• the seeds of that plant

• the resin extracted from any part of the plant

• every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant or its seeds or resin

The advisory then goes on to say that mature stalks, fibers from those stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds, or anything derived from the mature stalks are not marijuana.

It looks like all those salves and oils beginning to appear in health and beauty products will only be available from licensed marijuana dealers in Michigan. As we all know from the above discussion, there are no licensed marijuana dealers in Michigan right now. Hmmm...

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About The Author

Larry Gabriel

Larry Gabriel covers cannabis for Metro Times. He also writes the Detroit Watch in the monthly Michigan Cannabis Industries Report. Larry's chapter "Rebirth of Tribe" in the book Heaven Was Detroit, from jazz to hip-hop and beyond chronicles the involvement of Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison, Harold McKinney,...
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