Take a drive down Wilder Road and you might notice green crosses popping up on buildings: The medical marijuana industry is officially open for business in Bay County.
As the state continues to process hundreds of applications required for its Medical Marihuana Facilities Act — a new law that aims to regulate what’s believed to be an $837 million industry in the state — some retailers in Bay County have opened provisioning centers, also known as dispensaries, early under the state’s emergency rules and are serving a growing number of patients.
A dispensary called Hydra Elevated Wellness opened at 4373 Wilder Road after the new year.
And then husband-and-wife duo Jason and Angie Dabrowski opened their first location of Roots Dispensaries at 3557 Wilder Road on Jan. 19. Inside the spacious location, display cases feature jars of marijuana flowers, inhalers, cannabis oil, ointments, and medibles, such as brownies and suckers.
From day one, business has been booming.
“It was exciting,” said Angie Dabrowski of their first day. “We had people from Traverse City, Flint, the Thumb, Sebewaing.”
Patronage has only increased since then, with her husband estimating 90 to 120 people visit the shop each day.
“Forty percent of them I would say are new customers — first-time visits,” Jason said.
The shop opened under the state’s emergency rules that allow dispensaries to open early while their license is still being processed. During that period, they can only obtain their medical marijuana from various state-licensed caregivers. Dispensaries can start purchasing product from large commercial growing operations after the state approves those permits.
Bangor Township Supervisor Glenn Rowley, who has been a proponent of municipalities opening their doors for the medical marijuana industry, said he had concerns with the emergency rules because the product isn’t being regulated as outlined in the new state law.
“They are essentially moving product that hasn’t been tested,” he said. “But I do understand that there are people out there who have the cards and they need to get their prescription filled. That’s why the state did it.”
Rowley added it was a relief to see that the Dabrowskis are running a business that looks professional and legitimate.
“The last thing you want is some business opening up early with a card table and a cash register,” he said. “Luckily, these people did it right and that makes me feel really good.”
The Dabrowskis, both Essexville natives who have lived in Bangor Township for 10 years, said they got into the medical marijuana industry in part as a response to the nation’s ongoing opioid epidemic. They say medical marijuana is a safer alternative to prescription opiate medication that can lead users to addictions and overdoses.
Police and health officials have attributed the rise in heroin use and overdose deaths to people gravitating from prescription painkillers such as OxyContin or Vicodin. Heroin is cheaper than those substances and easier to ingest since pharmaceutical manufacturers changed their pills’ composition so they can no longer be snorted or melted down and injected.
“The medical marijuana industry is kind of taking the place of those prescription medications,” Angie Dabrowski said. “We thought it would be helpful to society.”
The state Supreme Court in 2013 ruled dispensaries were illegal under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, but lawmakers in 2016 passed legislation to legalize and regulate them. The state’s Medical Marihuana Licensing Board began accepting applications for medical marijuana facilities on Dec. 15.
Since then, several municipalities across Bay County have opted in, including Bay City, Pinconning Township, and Kawkawlin Township.
Prior to the change, the law mandated all patients had to grow their own marijuana or acquire it from a primary caregiver. Caregivers could assist no more than five patients, who could compensate them with donations.
Dispensaries like Roots, though, can now set prices for their product. Roots offers a 10 percent discount for veterans and have a customer loyalty program, whereby patrons earn 6 cents for every dollar they spend.
When customers visit Roots, they’re greeted by a receptionist, who inspects their medical marijuana card and matches it with a state ID. If customers’ credentials are valid, they proceed to one-on-one consultations with the staff, or patient care representatives. The customers share their symptoms — be it pain, nausea or epilepsy — and their needs with the staff, who help them select the best product for them.
“We have specific medications — (some) with no psychoactive effects,” Jason Dabrowski said.
The Dabrowskis have plans to expand their business with a second dispensary location on Marquette Street in Bay City, which would be attached to a 1,500-plant growing operation that they would also own and operate.
Roots currently has 10 employees. The Dabrowskis anticipate hiring up to 40 more once they expand.
Rowley said the township has awarded all 15 of its provisioning center permits, which allow recipients to then apply for a state license. There is a waiting list of eight or nine applicants beyond those 15, Rowley said. Each of those permits require an annual, nonrefundable $5,000 fee paid to the governing municipality.
In Pinconning Township, they’ve maxed out their 10 available licenses for dispensaries and are offering unlimited grower licenses.