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Lansing — The state has changed course and said medical marijuana dispensaries can continue business as usual after Dec. 15 without affecting their chances of getting a license under new state rules.

The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs announced the new emergency rules on Wednesday that mean staying open won't be an “impediment to licensure” so long as medical pot shops have the blessing of the town or city in which they’re located. The emergency order is “to help ensure the continued protection of medical marihuana patients,” according to the department.

Some dispensaries had voluntarily closed when the state indicated shutting down would improve the odds of getting a new license.

It is a stark change from an earlier LARA advisory that warned dispensary owners that if they continued operating after license applications can be submitted starting Dec. 15, the state’s new Medical Marihuana Board may count that against them when considering whether to grant an official license.

The department’s medical marijuana director, Andrew Brisbo, said in a statement that the abrupt change is the result of “dozens of hours of public comments, discussions with more than 100 work group members, and numerous letters and emails” that made it clear the rules are needed to “help protect medical marihuana patients and ensure they have continued access to their medicine.”

Brisbo said after the emergency rule is adopted, it will “have the force and effect of law.”

Subject to local government approval, dispensaries can keep selling medical marijuana to patients until the state decides whether their license was approved. But state officials made it clear that dispensaries that are OK’d by local government are still not guaranteed a state license.

“The municipality will need to have an ordinance under the new act by June 2018,” Brisbo said during a press call with reporters. He cautioned that this is “not an authorization to operate,” but is meant to clarify what factors will impact applications for licenses to the state.

“We heard from not only patients … but also representatives from municipalities as well. I think the clarity on this approach is beneficial to all of these parties,” he said.

Dispensaries must close if they do not submit a “pre-qualification application” by February 15, 2018 or if they are denied a state license. They would also have to shut down if they’re not issued a state license by June 15, 2018, according to LARA.

Shops that don’t comply may have to contend with state or local police, according to LARA.

mgerstein@detroitnews.com

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