Editorial: Good riddance to the pot licensing board

The Detroit News
In this Feb. 14, 2019 photo, cannabis seedlings grow under lights as part of a research project by students in the new cannabis minor program at the State University of New York at Morrisville, N.Y.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order last Friday abolishing the politically appointed Medical Marihuana Licensing Board (MMLB) and creating an agency to oversee the regulation of both medical and recreational marijuana.

This is a good move, given that the Licensing Board was woefully inefficient at granting licenses and crafting rules to fulfill the Michigan’s demands for legal marijuana as demonstrated by the passage of Proposal 1 in last year’s midterm election.

Whitmer’s order, set to take effect April 30, would create the Marijuana Regulatory Agency within the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) overseeing laws related to medical and recreational marijuana.

Her order would dissolve both the Bureau of Marijuana Regulation and the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board, created under a 2016 law approved by the Legislature.

The licensing board’s inefficiency threatened to stall the development of Michigan’s marijuana industry.

Once the board was established last year, applicants who were operating marijuana 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.

But by Sept. 15, more than 300 applications awaited the board’s decision. Yet it still took a court order to force the licensing board to push back the deadline back to Dec. 15. The deadline was eventually extended to Jan. 1 and now sits at March 31.

The board meets infrequently, which has caused a backlog of applications left undecided and has stalled the implementation of recreational and medical marijuana in Michigan.

Under the board, 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 Marijuana Regulatory Agency should work to reduce the cost of licensing pot businesses while also streamlining the application process.

Though Whitmer’s order will likely improve marijuana licensing, she should have taken the matter to the state Legislature, which in 2016 passed a bill that included the medical marijuana board. The state constitution does not permit a governor to overturn legislation with executive orders. She should work with the Legislature to reconcile state law with the provisions of her executive order. 

The Republican-led Legislature has 60 days to review the edict and consider whether it wants to reject the order. That should give it time to work with the governor to change marijuana regulation with a new law. 

Lawmakers should have input into the process. But the goal should be to replace the inefficient process not win place with a more streamlined regulatory body such as the one the governor envisions.