The first time the Michigan Medical Licensing Board began considering applications for marijuana businesses in the state ended on Thursday with nobody getting approval.
The two applicants for licenses — for a transport service and a dispensary — were at least temporarily rejected by the board on 2-2 votes. A fifth member of the board was absent from the meeting and couldn’t break the tie. The applicants were applying for pre-approval of their applications, which means that they have filed an application with the state, but haven’t gotten approval yet from a community where they want to operate.
Michael Densmore, owner of GreenTransport Services in Gratiot County, wanted a license to be a secure transporter of medical marijuana to other cannabis businesses. But during a background check, a 20-year-old misdemeanor against Densmore that he hadn’t disclosed was discovered.
Tim McGraw, the owner of the other business — TJM Enterprises, which wanted to open a dispensary — had a possession of marijuana charge on his record that was uncovered by the state during its background check. Because McGraw’s misdemeanor possession charge was a first offense, it had been removed from his record after he completed his probation, but popped up during the more extensive state check.
McGraw, a medical marijuana card holder who grows his own marijuana, said he got the possession charge in 2012 on the same night he got a drunken driving ticket. He disclosed that charge, but thought that since the other had been removed from his record that he didn’t need to disclose that.
“Quite honestly, have you seen the application, it’s extremely confusing,” he said, adding he’ll be back to try and make his case to the board again. “I wasn’t trying to hide it. It’s a learning process for everyone. I guess they were trying to make us the poster children for the licenses and I understand that.”
The state did not provide details on the information found in Densmore’s background check.
Their applications weren’t outright denied, however, and they’re expected to be back at the next board meeting in April for a reconsideration.
“I guess I’ll come back for the next meeting,” said Densmore, who didn’t want to comment on the charge against him. “I’ve had a gun permit continuously since 1999. I’ve got a liquor license, a DNR license, a lottery license. I’m a law-abiding citizen. I had no idea there was anything out there like this. We’ll address it and take care of it.”
Licensing Board chairman Rick Johnson said the board is going through some growing pains.
“We’ve got a lot of applications to get through and we’ll get through them,” he said. “But we want to get them right.”
Board member Don Bailey, a retired officer with the Michigan State Police, was adamant that the applicants should be disqualified because they hadn’t disclosed the charges on their record.
“It’s the omission that’s troubling to me,” he said.
But board member David LaMontaine said that everyone should be given a second chance and that the charges themselves shouldn’t disqualify the applicants.
“The disclosure was not made, but they filed an addendum” to explain the omission, he said. “This happened a significant time ago. I don’t know if this is adequate to hold against these folks.”
Andrew Brisbo, director of the state’s Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, said the bureau doesn’t recommend approval or denial to the licensing board.
“We didn’t come in with expectations — we provide the applications for their consideration and they make their decisions,” he said.
If the first try at approving license applications is any indication, getting through the hundreds already submitted will be a chore. So far, 411 applications have been submitted for pre-qualification approval. Another 141 applicants — 57 growers, 21 processors, 57 dispensaries, two transporters and four testing facilities — have submitted full applications that include approval from the communities where they want to operate.
People began submitting applications on Dec. 15 and background checks on the people involved in those businesses are taking longer than anticipated, Brisbo said. Three more applicants — a dispensary, a grow operation and a processor — had originally been on the agenda for consideration by the licensing board, but were pulled at the last minute.
“We had some additional information we wanted to provide to the board and we wanted to make sure they had adequate time to review that information,” he said.
Rick Thompson, a marijuana advocate and board member for Michigan NORML, said he’s hopeful that the board will start accomplishing some substantial work.
“But it was discouraging that they only considered two applications today,” he said. “This board only meets nine times a year and with all five industries having applications flowing through there, it seems like a bottleneck that will prevent this industry from flourishing in the way it was initially intended.”
Meanwhile, the state has sent more than 200 cease and desist letters to medical marijuana businesses across the state, telling them that since they haven’t applied for a license, they’re operating outside of the medical marijuana law. The letter states the business will have to close or risk not being able to get a license at all. If they don’t shut down, they’ll also be turned over to law enforcement, which could shut them down.
Brisbo, who hasn’t released a list of the businesses that have or will be served, said they’re not done handing out cease and desist letters.
Amir Makled, an attorney representing several dispensaries in Detroit, said that a few of his clients received the cease and desist orders and have closed. Another client, who doesn’t sell marijuana but rather deals in products such as oils and creams that contain the non-hallucinogenic cannabinoids part of the cannabis plant, got a cease and desist order in error and is still operating.
“We’ve got to get on with the regulated market,” Makled said. “But there seems to be a little bit of every predicament out there.”