As shortage concerns mount, state recommends reprieve for medical pot shops

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Corey "the Bud-Tender" rolls a joint at a party.

Lansing — Amid industry concerns about shortages in the medical marijuana market, a state agency will recommend Wednesday that the state’s licensing board allow temporarily operating facilities to reopen and licensed facilities to accept product from caregivers.

The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs' request to the board was supported by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

““It is important that we ensure that patients have access to their medicine while the medical marijuana industry continues to develop,” Whitmer said in a statement.

The recommendation, while offering a reprieve to temporarily operating facilities, will also “allow licensed businesses to remain competitive during this transition period,” said Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Director Orlene Hawks.

The announcement by LARA comes the same day the newly formed Michigan Cannabis Industry Association voiced concern about the shortage and the impact on medical marijuana patients.

Representing both medical and recreational marijuana businesses, the association will represent about 50 marijuana businesses, lobby for pot-friendly regulations and laws, and provide group insurance and discounts.

Democratic Ann Arbor legislators Sen. Jeff Irwin and Rep. Yousef Rabhi stood with the group during a Tuesday press conference, noting that the "unifying voice" for the cannabis industry would help legislators. 

"Too often we’ve seen the Legislature stand in a place that maybe doesn’t understand what this industry brings to the table," Rabhi said. 

The group’s first priority, however, will be addressing the looming supply shortage in the newly licensed medical marijuana industry.  

“With almost no access left to medicine for patients and empty shelves in our member’s facilities, solutions need to be put in place immediately that allow patients to obtain their medicine,” said Robin Schneider, executive director for the association.

Though some Lansing marijuana businesses have state operating licenses, none are open in the city because of supply shortages, Schneider said. 

In Ann Arbor, the Om of Medicine provisioning center has been in business for more than nine years and usually stocks its shelves with hundreds of products, said the center's owner Mark Passerini

But "over the past two weeks, we’ve had 12 products on our shelves," said Passerini, noting that the products available were not the unique preparations needed by the most vulnerable patients. 

The concerns regarding the shortage echo those voiced by marijuana groups Monday in an open letter to Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel. They urged Whitmer to sign an executive order delaying the deadline for closure of temporarily operating facilities.

The facilities that are licensed are “poorly distributed” throughout the state, and ramping up the current market to provide for the patients that were served by the gray market for several years could take months, according to the letter from MILegalize, MI-NORML and the Michigan Democratic Party Cannabis Caucus. 

The department’s recommended resolution would allow temporarily operating facilities — estimated to be around 70 businesses — to stay open through March 31 without affecting their licensing status.

The resolution allows licensed provisioning centers to purchase marijuana from a registered caregiver or temporarily operating facility through March 31 provided the centers obtain written patient consent, enter product into the statewide monitoring system, confirm via photo ID that customers hold a valid registry card, and enter that person’s purchase into the statewide system to ensure they don’t exceed their daily limit.

The department also will recommend that growers or processors be permitted to purchase from caregivers or temporarily operating facilities if they tag and enter product into the statewide monitoring system and only transfer tested marijuana products.

In each circumstance, any adverse reactions to products would need to be reported to the department within a day.

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 to Oct. 31 by the department, then Jan. 1 through an agreement with the city of Lansing.

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