New pot agency approving more medical pot shop licenses faster

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Andrew Brisbo, LARA, director of the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation State of Michigan

Lansing — Michigan’s new Marijuana Regulatory Agency has more than doubled the pace of its processing of medical marijuana facility license applications.

During its first full month of operation in May, the department processed 213 prequalification and license applications compared with the 95 applications that were processed on average per month by the now abolished Medical Marihuana Licensing Board, said Desmond Mitchell, director of the agency’s licensing division. The change represents a 122% increase in the pace at which applications are processed.

The state also issued 40 state operating licenses in May compared with the monthly average of 20 per month prior to the agency’s formation.

The ability to analyze and approve applications in-house instead of packaging voluminous documentation for the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board has in part led to the faster pace, said Andrew Brisbo, executive director for the Marijuana Regulatory Agency.

“We may have even underestimated how much work went into that,” Brisbo said. “And additionally now we don’t have that lag time where we have to wait for the scheduled board meeting to come up."

The Marijuana Regulatory Agency took effect May 1 following an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that got rid of the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board and united medical and recreational marijuana regulation under one roof. Whitmer said she expected the new agency would streamline the licensing and regulation process, improving on the pace of the oft-criticized licensing board.

The agency announced its recent statistics during its first public meeting Thursday, during which new leadership outlined current processes, planned rule changes and the timeline for the state’s release of emergency rules for the adult use commercial market.

The agency plans to roll out emergency rules for recreational pot by the end of the month and begin accepting state license applications in the fall. The lag between the issuance of the rules and the application process allows municipalities to analyze the framework and decide whether they would like to opt out of the recreational market, Brisbo said.

“They wanted to see the rules and that was going to be their launching point to have those local discussions to determine their approach to it,” Brisbo said.

When the agency releases its emergency rules, it also expects to reopen the rules governing medical marijuana facilities. The rules for both markets will then be regrouped by topic so there is one set of rules governing testing, provisioning, or grow operations with small distinctions according to differences in the law, Brisbo said.

In the meantime, the agency also has clarified some of the licensing process for those seeking medical marijuana facility licenses. It includes the exclusion of traffic offenses from the list of prior law enforcement interactions that applicants must disclose and limiting the documentation applicants must show at the front end of the application process.

“In many cases it wasn’t necessarily producing tangible results in terms of the decision-making process,” Brisbo said about some of the required paperwork.

The agency, which is required to hold four public meetings a year, will hold its next meetings in Detroit, Traverse City and Flint.

While several people in public comments said they appreciated the faster pace at which the agency was moving, others expressed continued frustration over a shortage of medical marijuana. Licensed growing facilities are trying to scale up their supply to meet the demand that was previously supplied through the unlicensed market.

“There is no flower available,” said Jacob Abraham, the owner of a provisioning center in Ypsilanti. “I have patients that are walking out because they can’t get the meds that their bodies are accustomed to.”

Complicating the shortage is the continued existence of roughly 30 temporary facilities that, thanks to an April court order, can continue buying and selling untested product until their timeline to appeal previous denials is exhausted.

The state is working to bring more plants and more growers into the licensed system and has seen an increase in both, Brisbo said.

“But we’ll keep monitoring that to ensure that we have adequate product in the regulated system,” he said, adding that patients still can purchase from the existing caregiver system.

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