Editorial: State still fumbling medical pot access

The Detroit News

With only four licensed marijuana testing facilities across Michigan, and licensed dispensaries running low on product, medical marijuana patients are struggling to access items they rely on to reduce pain and other symptoms. As the state seeks to streamline its marijuana operations, this shortfall demands attention. 

The new Marijuana Regulatory Agency within the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has picked up the pace on licensing across the board, with two more marijuana testing facilities "in the pipeline," says LARA spokesman David Harns.

Currently, however, licensed dispensaries are running out of tested caregiver-grown products to sell to Michigan's roughly 300,000 medical marijuana patients. And the state will need more than six testing facilities to keep up with demand.

In October, LARA put emergency rules in place which allowed licensed dispensaries to sell untested caregiver-grown products. These rules were set to expire at the end of 2018, but due to a lawsuit they were extended until April 1. 

A court order at the beginning of April allowed 30 dispensaries whose licenses were denied to continue operating until they receive a decision from LARA on their appeal. These dispensaries can obtain and sell untested marijuana products.

Meanwhile, licensed facilities are running out of the caregiver-grown products they are allowed to sell — and which they were forbidden to obtain after April 1. 

That hardly seems fair. 

These are the "growing pains" of new rules and regulations governing medical marijuana, Harns says.

Right now, unlicensed dispensaries have an upper hand on licensed business owners, and many who rely on safe medical marijuana products are experiencing shortages. 

LARA must prioritize licensing more testing facilities, since licensed dispensaries are required to sell tested products. 

In the meantime, LARA should extend emergency regulations allowing licensed dispensaries to obtain caregiver-grown medical marijuana to offer relief to patients and strained business owners.

High licensing standards prevent patients from consuming metals, pesticides or other dangerous chemicals, but state officials should seek to make the process as efficient as possible.

Benjamin Rosman, CEO of Precision Safety Innovation Labs, says the licensing process his marijuana testing facility went through in 2015 was "harrowing." He says the process to obtain a license took months. 

"The labs are doing the best they can right now," Rosman says. "But we certainly will need more." 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rightly formed the Marijuana Regulatory Agency earlier this year to oversee regulation of recreational and medicinal marijuana. And the agency deserves kudos for increasing the pace on licensing the industry, which the state had bungled previously. 

In the short term, more work must be done to ensure medical marijuana patients across the state have reliable access to the products they need.