Michigan licensing board ends nearly 2 years overseeing pot regulation
It was with equal parts resignation and determination Thursday that the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board conducted its last meeting.
Like tires spinning in mud, the board churned through 92 applications for prequalification, 28 applications for state medical marijuana licenses and four appeals.
The deliberations were made knowing that a judge’s order allowing unlicensed medical pot facilities to stay open could render the board's efforts moot and that any denials would likely result in appeals extending long past the board's term.
The four-member panel tabled several applications, leaving the final determinations to its successor, the Marijuana Regulatory Agency, which will start Tuesday conducting the licensing process internally.
“We’re done,” Chairman Rick Johnson said after the meeting. “There will be a new process. Somebody else’s eyes will look at it” and perhaps make it “quicker and better.”
The board's monthly meetings likely will be replaced with a rolling application process within the Marijuana Regulatory Agency established through Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's March executive order. Whitmer created the agency to make the regulatory process for adult use and medical marijuana facilities more efficient.
The long-winded public medical marijuana licensing meetings, which began in June 2017, had become dreaded by licensees and a challenge for the state and board members who struggled to launch a regulated industry from a patchwork of facilities already operating in a largely gray market.
Outside of meetings, board members reviewed hundreds of pages of documentation related to the applications they considered, part of a job for which they were not paid.
Early meetings were packed with concerned marijuana users. Board members took flak for overly scrupulous reviews of applications. Decisions were appealed. The process was criticized. A state appeals judge routinely overturned the board’s resolutions.
None of that pressure let up Thursday, but some state employees and industry representatives acknowledged the challenging task board members had tackled.
“Thank you very much for being pioneers,” Ben Wrigley, a lawyer for several applicants, told the board. “You’re unpaid, you volunteered for this and we now have an industry which is operating in the state of Michigan, a licensed industry, to take the place of the black market.”
The weight of the past two years showed as the board began its final meeting Thursday.
Johnson tried to prequalify 92 license applications at once, noting that recent judicial decisions allowing some unlicensed facilities to remain open "makes you wonder why we've been here at all."
Board member Nichole Cover had introduced the measure, but Vivian Pickard and Don Bailey didn’t surrender their authority so easily.
Far from going quietly, Bailey insisted on combing through each of the applications. He also questioned if the Bureau of Marijuana Regulation or Michigan State Police had sent investigators to Ann Arbor’s Hash Bash earlier this month where "marijuana and marijuana product was piled as high as you could reach.”
Director Andrew Brisbo said he was the only bureau employee who attended the event, as a speaker.
Bailey’s scrutiny of applicants has been a point of contention for many in the industry and Thursday was no exception. Still, the former state police officer wished licensees luck going forward.
“You are going to need it,” he said. “The black market has expanded exponentially. It’s not going to contract on its own.”
Johnson became emotional at the close of the meeting, thanking the state employees and medical marijuana entrepreneurs for their work in the market.
“The biggest reason I’m here is it really has helped two members of my family,” Johnson said. “Keep doing what you’re doing because those are the people that need to be helped.”