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The Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency today starts to take applications for recreational marijuana business licenses, nearly a year after voters passed a ballot initiative legalizing pot for pleasure The state has had a year to prepare for this day, and we hope it's ready.

Given the state's poor record of handling medical marijuana licensing of both businesses and testing facilities, the pot regulatory agency has a lot to prove.

Earlier this year, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer formed the agency to oversee regulation of recreational and medicinal marijuana. That has led to a more streamlined licensing process.

Yet it's still far from perfect. The medical marijuana industry faces a shortage of legal product, which has proven a challenge for patients who really need access to ease pain and other discomfort. The MRA needs to ensure regulations stay as loose as possible to allow supply to catch up with demand. 

MRA spokesman David Harns says the agency is prepared for the task at hand.

“We’ve got 15 analysts ready to go,” he says. “They’ve been touring the state and teaching folks how and what they need to apply. We’ve done a lot of pre-work. It’s just a matter of execution now.” 

While entrepreneurs now have the ability to apply for adult use business licenses, that doesn’t mean consumers will be able to buy recreational marijuana anytime soon. 

“We already have a real supply and demand problem in the medical market,” says Robin Schneider, executive director of the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association.  “Our provisioning members tell me on a daily basis they are struggling to keep their product on the shelves.” 

Schneider says it will likely be next spring before adults can purchase pot in a retail setting.

Contributing to the product delay is that the MRA has not allowed for the transfer of marijuana from the medical market to the recreational market, according to Harns. That means new recreational licensees will have to start their products from seeds, grow fresh plants and get them tested before they can sell. 

Michigan has one of the largest marijuana markets in the country. As far as market potential goes, with a high percentage of both patients and recreational users, it’s second only to California, Schneider says.

Barriers to ramping up supply are twofold. First, there are the regulatory hoops. These are easier for medical providers that have already been vetted by the state, but more difficult for new licensees who have yet to go through the process. 

Second, there are biological setbacks when it comes to growing new plants.

These are the growing pains of a budding industry, but the MRA can help by making sure it doesn't slow down the process with unnecessary regulation — as the state did with medical marijuana. 

“There’s a balance between consumer safety and overregulation,” says Schneider.

The state needs to be as flexible as possible to honor the will of voters on recreational pot. 

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