Judge puts hold on pot shop licensing deadline

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
In this April 12, 2018, photo, nugs of marijuana await packaging at the Hollingsworth Cannabis Company near Shelton, Wash. America's marijuana supporters have a lot to celebrate on this 420 holiday: Thirty states have legalized some form of medical marijuana, according to a national advocacy group. Nine of those states and Washington, D.C., also have broad legalization where adults 21 and older can use pot for any reason. Michigan could become the 10th state with its ballot initiative this year. Yet cannabis remains illegal under federal law, and it still has many opponents.

Another medical marijuana licensing deadline has been foiled by Michigan Court of Claims Judge Stephen Borrello, a decision that will keep many shops from closing.

The delay marks the fourth time this year that the licensing deadline for existing medical marijuana businesses has been pushed back.

More than 200 medical marijuana shops applied by Feb. 15 to continue operating while seeking licenses and were given deadline to obtain those licenses by June 15. But that deadline was later pushed to Sept. 15, then Dec. 15 by court order, then back to Oct. 31 by the department.

Borrello on Tuesday barred the state from enforcing the Oct. 31 deadline because medical marijuana business First Class Inc. appeared likely to succeed in its argument that moving the deadline from Dec. 15 to Oct. 31 was “arbitrary and capricious.”

The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is reviewing Borrello’s order, spokesman David Harns said.

Borello scheduled a Nov. 9 hearing, when the state is expected to argue why a preliminary injunction should not be issued. Until then, the state cannot set another deadline for existing medical marijuana facilities.

First Class Inc., which operates a Leoni provisioning center, is hoping the judge settles on a preliminary injunction at the November hearing, said Adam Brody, a lawyer for First Class. 

"We firmly believe that all applicants who have otherwise complied with the state's requirements should be allowed to continue operating on a temporary basis until such time as their applications have been heard and decided," Brody said in a statement. 

Borrello's decision comes a day after the state’s Medical Marihuana Licensing Board informed applicants who would be closed Oct. 31 that they could keep their medical marijuana stores locked on the premises until the next licensing meeting.

“Ultimately, I want to encourage full compliance with the law and the rules, but I do not intend to deny an applicant at the Nov. 8 meeting who maintains their existing marijuana product but does not operate the facility,” Chairman Rick Johnson said Monday.

The state had said unlicensed businesses that continued operating after the Oct. 31 deadline would be issued cease-and-desist letters and that continued operation could harm their chances for operating licenses.

Early Tuesday, the city of Lansing also filed suit against the state seeking an injunction on the Oct. 31 licensing deadline. The city has lagged behind others in issuing provisioning center licenses, and would be unable to meet the Halloween deadline for issuing the prerequisite city licenses that businesses need in order to obtain a state license, Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said in a statement.

“The December 15th deadline was set previously, and we can hit that target,” Schor said. “However, the state keeps moving the target and that will have a negative effect on the ability of Lansing residents to get this Michigan legal medicine that they need.”


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