State won't close medical pot shops this year

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Nearly 100 temporarily operating medical marijuana businesses seeking their state licenses can continue operating at least through the end of the year.

Lansing — Nearly 100 temporarily operating medical marijuana businesses seeking their state licenses can continue operating at least through the end of the year.

The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs agreed Tuesday that it would not shut down any pot shops before Dec. 31. The commitment from Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation Director Andrew Brisbo came just prior to the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules approving the state’s permanent rules for the medical marijuana industry.

The city of Lansing, which has yet to issue any city licenses to its dispensaries, asked the state to agree to the new date to accommodate its applicant review process, which has been beset with litigation and delays.

“It’s almost like an unfunded mandate,” said Lansing city attorney Jim Smirtka, noting that roughly a quarter of his staff’s time has been dedicated to the medical marijuana licensing. “Given the vagaries over the last year and the rule changes, we needed a clear path.”

Lansing is part of a lawsuit pending in the Michigan Court of Claims that temporarily stopped LARA’s enforcement of an Oct. 31 deadline that would have required the closure of any temporarily operating facilities that had not obtained a license. Judge Stephen Borrello ruled that the state’s Oct. 31 deadline was “arbitrary and capricious” and barred the state from enforcing it.

The state, the city of Lansing and a Lansing dispensary involved in the Court of Claims suit hope to resolve the lawsuit before the end of the year, Brisbo said.

“We’re hoping for clarity’s sake to get an order soon,” he said.

Borrello’s October ruling marked the fourth time this year that the licensing deadline for existing medical marijuana businesses had been pushed back.

More than 200 medical marijuana shops applied by Feb. 15 to continue operating while seeking licenses and were given a 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.

The state estimates 98 of those initial 215 applicants are still operating while seeking licenses. The remainder have stopped pursuing a license, were never operating in the first place, have already been denied a license, or have already obtained a license, Brisbo said.

Roughly 67 facilities are licensed and operating in the regulated market. The state has one more meeting before the end of the year and is working on scheduling a second in order to license additional businesses that could resolve supply shortages in the regulated market. 

"We have growers that are licensed, but they’re not producing enough product to supply the entire regulated market so what we need to work on is how we give them enough time to catch up with the market as it continues to scale up," Brisbo said. 

The permanent rules approved by the commission Tuesday are largely similar to the temporary emergency rules under which medical marijuana businesses have been operating this year, with some exceptions.

The permanent rules, for example, allow for home delivery of medical marijuana to patients. The delivery provision allows a provisioning center employee to deliver up to 2.5 ounces each to 10 patients.

Usually, the commission allows 15 session days to elapse before approving new administrative rules. But with the dwindling number session days left in 2018 and the sunset of LARA’s emergency rules Nov. 30, the commission decided to waive the 15-day provision.

The rules were filed with the Office of the Great Seal Tuesday and take immediate effect.

(517) 371-3661