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Flame Flickers Out On Medical Pot Board Under Gov’s Order

March 5, 2019

More than a year-and-a-half and 121 approved facility licenses later, the state’s Medical Marihuana Licensing Board (MMLB) has met its end by the hand of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order reorganizing the state’s marijuana regulatory functions.

The Governor, in wiping out the MMLB and the state’s Bureau of Marijuana Regulation (BMR) and replacing it with the Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA), said the move was to “eliminate inefficiencies that have made it difficult to meet the needs of Michigan’s medical marijuana patients.”

Those were similar sentiments expressed Friday by some in the medical marijuana industry, which has complained about the slow process of license approvals since the state began receiving and sending facility applications to the MMLB for approval in the first months of 2018.

The Michigan Cannabis Industry Association (MCIA), which recently raised issues about a supply shortage in the regulated market, fully supported Whitmer’s move.

“This will streamline the licensing process and ensure it is fair,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of the MCIA, in a statement. “We have full faith in the professional staff at the Marijuana Regulatory Agency and LARA to do their jobs and create a safe and well-regulated market.”

Shelly Edgerton, former director of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) and now with Dykema, said in a statement released by the Governor’s office that doing away with the MMLB “is a step in the right direction” because “we have not seen the expected volume of licensees entering the market.”

And Attorney General Dana Nessel said the executive order would provide for “faster processing of marijuana applications.”

But MMLB member Don Bailey — a former law enforcement officer who has voted the most often against approving applications — didn’t see it the same way.

“I think it’s political payback to the marijuana lobby who supported the Attorney General and Governor wholeheartedly,” Bailey said, who was appointed to the MMLB by former Gov. Rick Snyder to represent Republicans.

Bailey rejected any notion that application approval delays were the fault of the board. He also didn’t think it was the fault of the state or the application itself. Instead, he said, “it’s the process.”

Bailey said the decision would impact public safety because more bad actors could get through and get licensed.

He said most of the marijuana bought and sold in California and Colorado — two places that have a legalized marijuana market of some kind — originates from the black market.

“We’re going to go for the record with decisions like this,” Bailey said.

MMLB Chair Rick Johnson didn’t return a request for comment Friday.

The state officially started taking medical marijuana facility applications in December 2017. Since then, the MMLB has approved 121 state licenses, out of the 599 applications received total through Feb. 21, according to state data.

As for pre-qualification applications — step one in the process — the state has received 1,022 of those and the MMLB has approved 294 through Feb. 21.

A few state-recommended changes to the vetting process were approved by the MMLB over the past year to try to move things along quicker, and the Legislature approved some tweaks to quicken the process, as well.

Under Whitmer’s reorganization order announced Friday, the MMLB and BMR go away in favor of the MRA, which will be situated within LARA. MRA will be responsible for implementing both medical and recreational marijuana, and will serve as the primary decision maker, according to Governor’s office.

Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said removing the MMLB gives the agency more flexibility, removes the administrative burden of preparing “voluminous files” and allows continuous review of applications rather than the once-a-month MMLB meetings.

Matt Miner, spokesperson for the Great Lakes Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, another group supportive of Whitmer’s order, also said doing away with the monthly board meetings was the right step.

“The application can get its up or down review from the department at the exact moment all the information is available,” he said.

The Governor’s order also calls for the MRA to hold four public meetings each year, where they’ll hear complaints and provide information about what the MRA is doing.

A yet-to-be-named executive director will head the MRA. The appointment will be subject to the Senate’s advice and consent and also subject to annual financial disclosures and a four-year employment restriction.

Brown did not say if the administration would bring back Andrew Brisbo, the current director of the BMR, for the position.

The order also gets rid of the Marihuana Advisory Panel, and transfers all duties related to industrial hemp over to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

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