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Bath Township — Existing medical marijuana dispensaries could be in danger of being shuttered by law enforcement if they stay open past mid-December, according to Andrew Brisbo, a top state marijuana regulator.

“The (Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs) will not shut down facilities,” Brisbo said Tuesday. But dispensaries that continue distributing medical marijuana to patients after the state begins accepting applications for dispensaries to get state licenses on Dec. 15 risk being closed by law enforcement, he added.

Brisbo said the department has and will not ask law enforcement to close such dispensaries, however. That would be at the sole discretion of law enforcement.

Brisbo’s comments came during the state’s third Medical Marihuana Licensing Board meeting Tuesday and just hours after LARA issued a statement that appeared to put pot shops on notice for potential closure, considering them “a potential impediment to licensure” if they stay open after Dec. 15.

Tuesday’s meeting was marked by confusion and internal disagreement within the board and worry from patients who feared they wouldn’t be able to find medicine.

Board members were torn about how to address the issue before ultimately deciding to leave LARA’s announcement unchallenged. They also attempted to clarify with Brisbo the extent of the board’s authority and clear up confusion about the legal process for crafting new rules.

Donald Bailey – who originally made the motion to shut down current dispensaries in late August – said Tuesday he is trying to combat a marijuana black market.

“We don’t want to see these dispensaries … making these things and putting it into Michigan’s own black market,” said Bailey, who is a retired State Police sergeant who used to work in drug enforcement.

Bailey questioned whether LARA was being tough enough on dispensaries that he says have operated illegally since 2008, when voters legalized marijuana for medical use in a statewide referendum.

“The law is pretty clear,” Bailey said. “I apologize to those who don’t understand where I’m coming from, but I cannot be moved and I won’t be. This is a violation.”

Others on the board, such as Nichole Cover and chairman Rick Johnson, seemed to push back against that sentiment.

“We are not enforcers; we are not regulators,” Cover said. “We’re all trying to navigate the lay of the land.”

Johnson withdrew his initial support for Bailey’s motion to shutter dispensaries after LARA clarified that it’s not within the board’s authority or role to do so – that’s up to law enforcement.

But LARA will still issue emergency rules to render dispensaries operating without a license “a potential impediment” to its license plan. It consulted with Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office to determine that it could do so, according to the department.

That could mean that dispensaries that refuse to close by Dec. 15 might have a harder time getting an official license from the state to operate once they are issued.

The mid-December date “will allow existing operations to wind down while also giving adequate time for patients to establish connections to caregivers to help ensure continuity of access,” according a state press release.

LARA sent the release just hours before the scheduled board meeting, during which officials tried to clarify whether pot shops would be shuttered, or which state entity had the authority to enact closures if they happen.

Any “regulatory action” to close dispensaries would require an administrative rule, which LARA could enact on an “emergency” basis as it seeks to set up a permanent regulatory structure for Michigan’s medical marijuana businesses. Enforcing that would be up to police.

Application fees for dispensaries could cost between $4,000 and $8,000, “depending on the number of applications received,” according to LARA.

People again expressed concern that they wouldn’t be able to find medical marijuana if dispensaries are shut down for a time while the state issues licenses.

Many expressed frustration with Bailey, who many seem to view as adversarial to medical pot. Others attempted to justify the need for such medicine and how it helped them.

Detroit has eight city-approved medical marijuana dispensaries and another 69 pending approval from the city but still operating. Another 81 applications are pending in addition to those, according to a city database.

mgerstein@detroitnews.com

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