Local officials are beginning to decide if they want medical marijuana businesses in their communities before the state starts giving out licenses next year.
EAST LANSING — A proposal to close all medical marijuana dispensaries operating in Michigan until the state starts officially licensing them drew outrage today from people who depend on the drug to treat a variety of ailments.
Donald Bailey, a retired Michigan State Police trooper and member of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board, said the dispensaries should be shut down by Sept. 5 and any outlets that remain open should not be eligible to apply for licenses when the state makes those applications available on Dec. 15.
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“Every dispensary out there is open in violation of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act,” Bailey said during an afternoon meeting of the board. “It’s a felony for every sale that occurs from a dispensary.”
After hearing from dozens of medical marijuana patients and potential future marijuana business owners, the board decided to table Bailey’s proposal.
“I have a degenerative bone disorder and discovering medical marijuana was a game changer for me,” said Mark Gibson of Detroit. “Before you make a rash decision, the financial cost for people who rely on dispensaries for product will be significant. You will complicate their life so much that they may not be able to get treatment.”
Kirk Reed, who uses medical marijuana to treat multiple sclerosis, said he fears having to go back to the black market to get his supply.
“What happens if your caregiver has a heart attack, where do you go for medicine?” he said.
And Tim Beck, who was instrumental in getting the medical marijuana constitutional amendment on the 2008 ballot, said he was dumbfounded when he heard the proposal.
“This comes across to me as petty, vindictive and authoritarian,” he said.
But not all of the couple of hundred people attending the meeting were on the side of existing businesses. Some people who want to be considered for a license when the state begins accepting applications don’t want to be shut out of the market by people who have been operating dispensaries without a license from the state.
And David Scott, supervisor of Commerce Township, said there are 67 grow operations in his township, many of which are growing more plants than are allowed by existing law.
“Knock off the crap that’s illegal and is nothing but organized crime,” he said.
Voters approved medical marijuana in 2008, allowing caregivers to grow up to 12 plants for each of six patients who have approved medical marijuana cards.
Some communities went after dispensaries, shut them down and criminally charged the owners. Other communities, such as Detroit, Lansing, Flint, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, allowed the pot shops to operate without police intervention. In Detroit, there are more than 70 shops that are operating that have either gone through or are completing the city’s approval process.
To address the confusion and uncertainty in the medical marijuana law, the Legislature passed laws last year to regulate and tax the medical marijuana business. The new legislation will allow five classes of medical marijuana licenses — those for growers, processers, testing facilities, dispensaries and transporters. The legislation also calls for three classes of medical marijuana growers — those who can grow up to 500 plants, 501-1,000 plants and 1,001 to 1,500 plants.
The medical marijuana licensing board, working with the state Licensing and Regulatory Affairs department, will begin issuing licenses next year.
LARA spokesman Jason Moon said the department is prepared to review Bailey’s proposal before the board’s next meeting in mid-September. Board chairman Rick Johnson said he expects the board to vote on the dispensary closure issue at the next meeting after getting a recommendation from LARA..
Before the state begins issuing licenses, cities, townships and villages have to decide whether they want medical marijuana businesses in their communities. That's a process that's going on now and some cities are deciding to ban the businesses from their towns.
Contact Kathleen Gray: 313-223-4430 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @michpoligal.