No sign of pot shutdown, but Dems aim to protect access
Lansing — Law enforcement indicates there is no imminent shutdown of medical marijuana dispensaries, but two Democratic lawmakers say the Legislature needs to ensure patients can keep getting medication until the state issues dispensary licenses.
Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, and Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, introduced legislation Wednesday they say would let existing medical marijuana dispensaries operate as they await the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board’s decision on which shops will receive state licenses to do business in the future. Applications are due Dec. 15, and the state has indicated that staying open past that point could hurt the chances of getting a permit.
The legislation would ensure that dispensaries that stay open during the state review process would not be less likely to get a permit.
Meanwhile, there’s no indication that dispensaries are facing an impending crackdown from law enforcement, said State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner, despite such fears in the medical marijuana community.
It’s likelier that voluntary shutdowns would happen as dispensaries aim to get on the state’s good side while it considers permit applications -- something a Detroit shop already has done.
Hundreds of dispensaries across the state have continued to distribute medical marijuana without police reprisal despite a 2013 Michigan Supreme Court ruling that determined they were operating illegally.
After Medical Marijuana Licensing Board member Donald Bailey stoked fears of an impending dispensary shutdown, state officials now say dispensaries should not expect more aggressive enforcement than in the past.
“Our approach enforcing the state’s medical marijuana law has not changed,” Banner said. “Each criminal complaint is handled on a case-by-case basis.”
The board quashed Bailey’s motion to shut down dispensaries after hearing from the state’s chief medical marijuana regulator, Andrew Brisbo, that it doesn’t actually have that authority.
David Harns, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said the department does not direct State Police or other law enforcement “as to what their priorities should be.”
Bob Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, also said he doesn’t think cities that have allowed dispensaries will change course. But he said they are likely fair game after licenses are distributed.
“My gut feeling is if they let them operate illegally now, they would let them operate illegally until permits can be issued,” Stevenson said, adding that “I don’t see illegal dispensaries operating side-by-side with legal dispensaries.”
Brisbo cautioned that pot shops that stay open after Dec. 15, when the state begins accepting applications, run the risk of not getting permits later. Brisbo also warned that law enforcement could still shut down dispensaries at any time, although he said the department won’t ask state or local police to act.
Knezek and Rabhi still say the bills are necessary to allow dispensaries to stay open during the “interim” period before licenses are doled out.
“I think the point we’re trying to get across is we don’t want to take a wait-and-see approach and potentially jeopardize the lives of these patients,” Knezek said.
So far, the two legislators have not heard from Republican leadership about whether the GOP-controlled House and Senate will back the plan. But several Republicans have indicated support for the measure.
Carla Boyd, a member of the Michigan Epilepsy Foundation’s board of directors, said stopping some epileptic patients’ medication – even temporarily – could lead to severe seizures or death for some patients.
Another medical marijuana advocate, Justin Nichols, said he thinks a lag in dispensary access would hurt other patients too.
Nichols, an Iraq War veteran who served in the military for 11 years, said he uses medical marijuana to help with insomnia and other mental health issues.
“There’s a safety going to a dispensary,” he said. “You can look at the product. You can research where it’s coming from. To go away from that, then you run the risk of getting it from someone you don’t know.”