Sweeping changes are underway to revamp and revitalize Michigan’s flawed cannabis licensing system for the state’s medical and recreational industries. Announced on March 1, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order, abolishing the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board. Under the order, the board must officially dissolve by April 30. The agency formerly approved or denied medical cannabis licenses.
In its place, the board will be replaced by the Marijuana Regulatory Agency, a new agency under the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). It will handle the licensing of both the medical and recreational businesses in the state.
Executive Order 2019-7 was published on the Michigan Legislature website on March 1. We reached out to LARA spokesperson David Harns, who confirmed the changes in leadership. “This executive order will eliminate inefficiencies that have made it difficult to meet the needs of Michigan’s medical marijuana patients,” Gov. Whitmer said in a statement provided to CULTURE. “All elements of this Agency have been designed to serve and better protect Michigan residents, and I’m eager to have a unified effort across state departments to make sure this process runs effectively and efficiently.”
The state’s Medical Marihuana Licensing Board was deemed inefficient after a series of setbacks and frustrations. Only 121 licenses for growers, processors, provisioning centers, testing labs and transporters have been issued as of March 1. Given that the board received 599 license applications, the process has been moving at a glacial pace. The state’s backlog of license applications led to a shortage of cannabis beginning last January. According to Rick Thompson, a member of the Michigan Cannabis Business Development Group, the board was typically viewed as “an obstruction.”
“All elements of this Agency have been designed to serve and better protect Michigan residents, and I’m eager to have a unified effort across state departments to make sure this process runs effectively and efficiently.”
Sheriff Jerry L. Clayton of Washtenaw County and Sheriff Richard Fuller of Kalamazoo County responded affirmatively to the announcement of the new agency. Others pointed out that the former board contributed to the dysfunctional state of Michigan’s medical cannabis system. Former state trooper Donald Bailey, who was a member of the abolished board, said that he believes it’s a mistake to dissolve it, citing a potential hazard to public safety. The state Legislature has the power to veto the order. However, Gov. Whitmer reached out to both the House and Senate before issuing the order, so it is expected to remain intact.
Yet another deadline for Michigan medical cannabis businesses was on March 31, when the former board required that medical cannabis businesses obtain their state licenses in order to continue operation. In addition, April 1 was the beginning date requiring all cannabis must be tested, according to new standards. Prior to the deadline, provisioning centers were allowed to sell untested cannabis from caregivers to keep the supply chain intact. Caregiver cannabis, however, has been recalled eight times over the last two months after testing for contaminants.
Industry experts expect more businesses will received cease-and-desist letters if they continue to stay open without licensing requirements. According to mlive.com, there were 54 provisioning centers that still sold untested cannabis as of early March, and they stood to be affected by the changes, unless they found a licensed source for their supply.
The new board will hopefully help to resolve some of the issues that have plagued Michigan’s cannabis industry over the past several months. As the state’s industry continues to mature, some of these problems will be ironed out, little by little.