Editorial: Extend deadline for medical pot licensing

The Detroit News

Michigan voters approved medical marijuana a decade ago, and in that time, shops have popped up around the state to fill a clear demand for this alternative medicine. Yet now that the state has stepped in to license sellers, the slow process threatens to unfairly shut down shops and prevent patients from accessing the product. 

That's wrong, and as a state-imposed deadline looms, the regulatory agency charged with licensing these shops should find a workaround 

After Sept. 15, medical marijuana facilities that have not yet received a license but are still in the licensing process will be sent into limbo, unable to sell or produce, and will be forced to destroy their plants. If they attempt to remain open past Sept. 15, they will receive a cease-and-desist letter.

Marijuana for sale at Bloom City marijuana dispensary in Ann Arbor. The questions local officials are grappling with include how many dispensaries to allow, where they can be located and what other limitations should be placed on their operations.

Though medical pot shops have been around since 2008, they operated in a legal gray zone because no licensing system was in place to regulate them.

Once that system was established last year, applicants who were operating businesses were told if they submitted applications before Feb. 15, they would have until Sept. 15 to continue operating, with the assurance applications would be decided in the interim.

To date, most of the applications have not been acted upon, leading to calls for a deadline extension. If the state doesn’t offer an extension, it should keep the current emergency measures in place until all applications are processed and acted upon by the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board.

Only 16 applications have been approved and two have been denied. The board still has 347 other applications to consider.

And though there is a board meeting scheduled for Sept. 10, the board won’t get through all the waiting applications in one sitting. The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees the marijuana board, obviously needs more time.

Marijuana producers have started growing plants that will yield after the Sept. 15 deadline. As the rule stands, all of those plants must be destroyed at the deadline, which could cause an interruption in production and create a marijuana shortage for patients. 

“Patients should not be sent into the black market for legitimate cannabis acquisitions,” says Rick Thompson, founder of Michigan Cannabis Business Development Group.

The state claims that 67 percent of Michigan’s 290,230 medical marijuana cardholders live in counties within 30 miles of one of the seven licensed provisioning centers and 75 percent within 60 miles. That may be right, but restriction of service and of medicine from 25 percent of the population is still a major issue that could be remedied with a later deadline.

According to Thompson, LARA has many people working diligently on the applications, which must be approved by a five member board. But only about 15 applications a month are acted upon.

Licenses are also expensive, and include a $48,000 regulatory assessment fee and a $6,000 application fee just to get started on the 10 stage process.

The state clearly needs more time to complete its application review. And marijuana patients and businesses which have complied with the law shouldn't be punished for its inefficiencies.