More than 600 people have started the process of getting a medical marijuana license, but only 20 of them have filed completed applications that include approval from local communities for their medical pot business.
The slow pace is the result of a number of factors: continued confusion over state law; cities and towns that have been slow to enact ordinances that will allow the businesses into their communities, and lingering uncertainty over how stringently federal authorities will enforce laws that — on a federal level — still consider marijuana an illegal drug.
“It’s definitely lower than we expected,” Andrew Brisbo, director of the state’s Bureau of Medical Marijuana, said after a meeting Friday of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board. “But many of the applicants are focusing on getting their municipal approval in before they submit an application to us.”
In addition to the 20 applications that have received municipal approval, 123 more people have turned in pre-qualification applications that will allow the state to begin background checks, while the entrepreneurs are awaiting approval from the town where they want to locate.
Another 477 people have started the application process online, but haven’t submitted any paperwork to the state yet.
“If each of those pre-qualifications applications blossom into license applications, we’ll continue to grow,” Brisbo said.
The licensing board’s next meeting is on March 22 and the state is hoping that it will have background checks done on completed license applications by then so the board can begin awarding licenses.
The state Legislature voted in 2016 to regulate and tax the medical marijuana business that has been operating in a murky legal area since voters approved cannabis for medical use in 2008. That ballot initiative called for certified caregivers to be allowed to grow up to 12 plants for each of five patients who had medical marijuana cards. In Michigan, there are 265,607 medical marijuana cardholders.
But law enforcement has been inconsistent across the state with some counties routinely busting caregivers and others allowing them to operate unimpeded.
The 2016 law — which provides for licenses in five categories: growers, processors, testing facilities, secure transporters and dispensaries — was meant to bring some predictability for medical marijuana patients, who will be able to buy product at dispensaries in communities that decide to allow the business.
So far, according to informal surveys done by the state, fewer than 50 communities in Michigan have adopted ordinances that will allow medical pot businesses to operate.
The drawn-out implementation of the business has some worried that patients will suffer because even after licenses are handed out, it will take six months for growers to produce mature marijuana, ready to be tested and sold.
Jamie Fricke, a caregiver from Davison, said the transition time between the caregiver and regulated markets is going to be tough for all the businesses and patients.
“We’re going to have a deficit in the market,” she said.