House plan to stop pot ‘super-grows’ gets panel hearing

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A plan to override a new state policy allowing medical marijuana growers to cultivate as much pot as they want was met Tuesday with mixed reaction in a House panel hearing.

Supporters of the legislation sponsored by Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, agreed that it would help prevent marijuana monopolies that could thwart small-time growers. But opponents and undecided lawmakers expressed doubt over whether limiting so-called license “stacking” would work as Runestad intends.

The plan would stop marijuana growers from using multiple state licenses to grow more than 1,500 pot plants at a single location. The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs released an advisory notice in September notifying people looking to get or stay in the market that they could apply for multiple licenses at the same location. That would allow growers to tend to as many plants as they want.

Critics have said the “stacking” allowance is meant to give big players in the medical marijuana industry an edge over smaller businesses. Runestad says his bill would act as a preventative measure against would-be monopolies.

“Having super-grows could potentially monopolize the market and may not be the direction we want to go in immediately,” Runestad said. He is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where the bill is currently being debated.

But fellow committee member Rep. Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, said he’s not sure how it would stop monopolies.

One owner could still have multiple licenses, as dictated in the original 2008 ballot question language that voters approved allowing marijuana for medical use. Runestad’s bill would stop a grower from using multiple licenses at the same location but would not stop a business from having multiple licenses.

“That doesn’t reduce the likelihood of monopolistic control over prices any more than having them in one location, does it?” Greimel asked Runestad.

“I would say it does,” Runestad said.

Greimel said he’s still neutral about the legislation. But the question stems from a divide within the medical marijuana industry that has been there from the beginning and is now unfolding at a rapid pace as the newly formed Medical Marijuana Licensing Board readies itself for permit applications on Dec. 15.

Many fear that as the state moves from a gray-market to a fully regulated one, the regulations will end up favoring those with the most money.

Rick Thompson, speaking on behalf of the Michigan Cannabis Business Development group, said in testimony before the House panel that stacking is designed to be “a tool of advantage” for businesses with the most capital.

He warned that confining plants to one area could also result in a greater likelihood of “catastrophic” crop failure due to infestations or other issues, which could then impact the supply chain and have ripple effects on pricing and patients’ access to medicinal marijuana. Thompson said he opposed Runestad’s bill.

Others disagreed.

“We want everyone to succeed,” Bangor Township Supervisor Glenn Rowle said.

Rowle said medical marijuana is saving the township’s economy, and for that reason, local government officials want everyone to make a mound of cash so great “they need a Sherpa” to reach its peak.

Runestad said he’s hoping to jump-start this debate and may consider a vote at the next committee meeting.