Yesterday, Michigan authorities announced another revision to the emergency rules under which the state’s medical cannabis dispensaries have been operating. The change moves the deadline by which dispensaries had to either obtain an operating license or shut down. It’s a deadline that Michigan regulators have shuttled back and forth all year, prompting lawsuits and making it difficult for dispensaries to keep up. Now, officials say the deadline for licensing is October 31, 2018.
What’s Going on With Medical Marijuana in Michigan?
Michigan voters legalized medical marijuana in 2008 but didn’t set up a regulated and taxed industry. Instead, the state’s medical cannabis market was entirely caregiver-based. The law allowed licensed caregivers to grow up to 12 plants for each of a maximum of five patients and also for themselves. And without an industry, caregivers didn’t have to deal with much regulatory oversight.
Recently, however, Michigan has been working to transition its caregiver-based medical cannabis program to a regulated industry. But the process has been far from smooth. With so many dispensaries already operating in the state, officials had to come up with a way to allow them to continue serving patients while also requiring them to obtain licenses.
The temporary solution was a set of emergency rules that would give cannabis companies a grace period for meeting new regulations, submitting applications and obtaining licenses. Initially, Michigan set a June 15 deadline as the shut down cutoff for unlicensed dispensaries. But the state was unable to approve any completed applications by its own deadline. In fact, Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulation only approved the first dispensary license on July 12.
Michigan Regulators Are Having Trouble Meeting Their Own Deadlines
Failing to meet its June 15 deadline, the state extended it to September 15, saying this new cutoff was firm. But not firm for every dispensary. Michigan regulators planned to let the 106 dispensaries that had submitted completed applications stay open until December 15. It would only be the 98 dispensaries that had begun their applications but not finished them that would have to shut down on September 15.
Attorneys representing the dispensaries scheduled to close sued the state over the Sept. 15 deadline and won. On Sept. 13, Judge Stephen Borrello approved an injunction against closing the 98 cannabis dispensaries. In response, the state moved the licensing deadline once more, this time setting it for Halloween for all dispensaries. Michigan regulators have not issued any explanation for the new Oct. 31 deadline. And those in the industry are unsure why another 45 days matters.
For its part, the Department of Licensing and Regulation says it will pick up the pace of reviewing applications. The board has its next meeting on October 18, and spokesperson David Harns says the board has a “robust agenda” for approving and denying several pending applications at that time. So far, Michigan has approved 37 licenses, including 19 for dispensaries. (Actually, Michigan has banned the term “dispensary,” only allowing medical cannabis retailers to call themselves “provisioning centers.”) In total, Michigan has received 702 applications for growing, processing, transporting, testing and retail licenses. Of those 702, just 72 have received preliminary approval.