Why Many Michigan Medical Marijuana Businesses Won’t Have To Close

Photo Credit: Craig F. Walker

The 215 medical marijuana businesses that have been operating under state-approved emergency rules, but which faced a June 15 deadline to get a license or be shut down, got some breathing room Wednesday when the state extended that deadline to Sept. 15.

“It was obvious that the process was moving a little slower than anticipated, so we needed to make sure that the patients had continued access to their medicine,” said David Harns, spokesman for the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, which governs the regulations surrounding medical marijuana.

The state has been reviewing applications for medical marijuana licenses since it began accepting applications on Dec. 15. But the state has given only preliminary approval, so far, to a handful of businesses, but no licenses. The Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board is expected to consider pre-qualification approvals for 19 applicants on Thursday. But, again, no licenses are expected to be issued until the board’s June 11 meeting.

That meant that the 215 businesses, most of which are medical marijuana dispensaries, faced closure since they have been operating without a license. If they had stayed open past June 15, the owners risked not getting a license at all because they were operating in violation of the emergency rules.

More than 200 medical marijuana businesses across the state, most of them in Detroit, received cease and desist letters from LARA in March, telling the owners to shut down or risk becoming ineligible for a license to continue to operate or even be busted by law enforcement.

They got the letters because they hadn’t submitted an application to the state for a license and had no proof of approval from the communities where they were operating. As a result, the state deemed that they were operating illegally.

Legitimate business owners, patients and entrepreneurs have been encouraging the state to extend the deadline to ensure that the businesses don’t lose their source of revenue while they wait for a license and patients don’t lose access to medical marijuana.

“It was obvious that the state had to do something,” said attorney Barton Morris, who has medical marijuana business clients in Detroit, Ann Arbor and the western part of Michigan. “We have been hoping and communicating with the department to try to figure out where we’re at in line so we could get approval before the 15th. But I’ve advised my clients that we’re prepared to do whatever is necessary because we can’t just hope that the licensing board isn’t going to stop us.

“It’s potentially a lot of money lost for these businesses. We could be talking about $5,000 a day and the lost continuity of their business if they have to shut down.”

Jerry Millen, who has applied for a license to open up the Green House dispensary in Walled Lake, said he’s happy for the extension because patients will continue to have access. But he wishes that the state would look at applicants who are ready to go with facilities and approval from the communities where they’re located before considering applications that haven’t met those requirements.

“I was hoping that instead of the state just extending the deadline, that they’d look at who is legitimately ready with a stage two application and put them at the front of the line instead of people who are just fishing for a license,” he said. “They’ve created a bottleneck in the system.”

Gov. Rick Snyder signed the extension of the deadline on Wednesday and applicants who turned in their applications for a license by Feb. 15 will be able to continue to operate without risking their license until Sept. 15.

“Extending the deadline to September 15 will make sure that this law is implemented correctly and assure that potential licensees are thoroughly reviewed. It is important that we ensure that medical marijuana patients have continued access to their medicine,” said LARA Director Shelly Edgerton.