Michigan’s rocky road toward establishing a feasible regulatory agency to oversee licensure in the cannabis industry is about to get a much-needed upgrade under new leadership. Nearly every state that has gone from medical to recreational cannabis industries has dealt with the inevitable struggle to revamp their systems to regulate recreational cannabis and issue licenses.
Recently Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued Executive Order 2019-7 that abolished the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board and signed the bill shortly after. In its place, the Marijuana Regulatory Agency was established to provide an agency to oversee both the medical and recreational industries. On March 28, Whitmer announced that she selected Andrew D. Brisbo to serve as executive director of the Marijuana Regulatory Agency.
Brisbo, 38, calls East Lansing home, and he currently heads the Bureau of Marijuana Regulation within the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). Before his new role, Brisbo’s job included serving as the state division administrator for the medical cannabis licensing division for LARA, and he served as the branch manager for the Michigan Secretary of State. He also filled a role for the Michigan Gaming Control Board. His latest hurdle will include his expanded list of duties. “[Brisbo’s] biggest challenge is balancing the regulation of the medical market—which is continuing to grow—while also implementing the adult-use regulations at the same time,” LARA spokesperson David Harns told CULTURE.
The new agency is expected to swell to 150 employees, and it has a proposed budget of $47.3 million. Under the previous system, a five-member politically-filled board—including former law enforcement officers—performed background checks on license applicants and reserved the power to deny licenses at its own discretion. But under the new system, a non-biased state agency will make those decisions.
“[Brisbo’s] biggest challenge is balancing the regulation of the medical market—which is continuing to grow—while also implementing the adult-use regulations at the same time.”
Michigan Cannabis Industry Association Communications Director Josh Hovey was instrumental in successfully legalizing recreational cannabis in Michigan, and served as an assistant to former Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. Hovey explained why Brisbo was the natural choice to fill the new position. “It’s a new role, but at the same time, he’s been heading the Bureau of Marijuana Regulation for some time now, so it’s someone who is very familiar with the industry,” Hovey explained to CULTURE.
The new agency will replace the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board, which was fraught with problems. In addition to Brisbo’s responsibilities, he will be tasked with issuing licenses to applicants from disproportionately impacted communities. Those disparities are especially evident in large cities like Detroit, where only a small handful of African Americans hold licenses for provisioning centers.
Hovey also explained the advantages of the new agency and why the old licensing board had to go. “The previous licensing board’s problems are very well documented—their inconsistency and decision-making, granting licenses and the fact that several members seemed to be opposed to the very industry that they were supposed to be regulating. Giving the authority directly to the state and allowing the staff to work with the businesses on their own is a much better move.”
The nomination is not finalized yet. Brisbo’s appointment is subject to the advice and consent of the Michigan Senate Advice and Consent Committee, which has 60 days to reject or approve the nomination. After 60 days, Brisbo automatically takes the position.