Lots of questions, no answers at pot board meeting

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — People peppered members of Michigan’s fledgling medical marijuana regulatory body on Monday with questions about the state’s inchoate medical marijuana rules but did not get any answers.

Members of the state’s Medical Marihuana Licensing Board agreed to set another meeting sometime before October, before applications for marijuana dispensaries are due on Dec. 15.

“We don’t have any position. We don’t have any ideas. The rules, temporary rules, none of that is in place. We have nowhere to go but forward and that’s what we’re gonna do,” Board Chairman Rick Johnson told reporters after the meeting.

Johnson is a former Republican House speaker who has done lobbying work related to marijuana legislation and was appointed to the board in May.

Scores of people expressed frustration with the lack of clarity regarding Michigan’s current and future cannabis rules after medicinal use was legalized by voters in a 2008 referendum.

People said they wanted to know how dispensary licenses will be doled out, in what order and whether some groups will be given preference over others if they’re technically illegal under both state and federal law, although allowed to operate in Michigan anyway.

There were questions about how seeds would be tracked and regulated, what rules there might be regarding transporting pot; questions about labs, whether suppliers and growers can be located at the same facility and how people trying to enter the burgeoning marijuana business can do so legally in a state without much of a legal framework.

But board members didn’t have any answers and declined to share ideas about what regulations may be coming.

“This is our first get-together,” Johnson said, who noted that he’s never met two of the members on the board until Monday. “And as we go forward, we’ll get more and more of that.”

Multiple people noted that townships are waiting to draw up local ordinances until the state board makes its own out of fear that local rules could be nullified.

People also bemoaned the lack of seats as the room overflowed and many waited outside.

“First of all, this room is too small. There were people in line who left,” said Matthew Abel, a criminal defense lawyer specializing in marijuana cases and a member of the NORML Legal Committee, which seeks to legalize marijuana for recreational use nationwide.

“There are a lot of people who have their whole lives invested in this,” he said.

Multiple people expressed concern that a retired State Police sergeant, Donald Bailey — who specialized in drug enforcement in Metro Detroit — sits on the board. They fear he could be antagonistic toward the industry.

Bailey declined to share his personal opinion about medical marijuana. He told reporters he was involved in “several raids at dispensaries that are open right now,” but his job is now to come up with rules to regulate them.

“I think you gotta start clean,” Bailey said. “This is medicine. We need to treat it like medicine.”

Twitter: @MikeGerstein