First state marijuana board meeting draws hundreds as industry waits for answers
The board tasked with approving licenses for Michigan’s medical marijuana industry met for the first time Monday, drawing hundreds of people angling to have a say in the process.
Monday’s meeting of the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board was essentially a listening session — the bulk of the roughly two-hour hearing was reserved for public comments. Attorneys, medical marijuana advocates and business owners expressed their concerns and hopes for the impending regulatory process.
At least 195 people were let into the room at G. Mennen Williams Auditorium in Lansing, which quickly filled to capacity before the meeting began. A few hundred more were not allowed inside, although some stuck around to give public comment at the end.
Many in attendance said they were concerned about what would happen to existing dispensaries scattered about the state, and how the state would handle a flood of applications for state licenses.
Others wanted to know when they could expect additional information about the regulations, including the licensing cost, requirements, whether an individual business could carry licenses for more than one operation and whether the board would give municipalities guidance on how to handle their own local marijuana regulation efforts.
Jeff Hank, a Lansing attorney and recreational marijuana legalization advocate, said it’s critical that licensing applications and approval are handled in a smooth and transparent manner. Otherwise, there’s going to be “fighting like it’s Black Friday” when the state starts accepting applications, he said.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel — we do need a sensible licensing process,” he said.
Allison Ireton, an Ann Arbor attorney, asked the board to consider allowing a stay for existing dispensaries to operate while waiting for licensing approval from the state to prevent hardship to current patients. She also said guidance should be provided to townships as soon as possible “so we don’t keep playing this order of operations pushback.”
Board Chair Rick Johnson, a former Republican state House speaker, told reporters following the hearing that it will take some time to get to those answers.
“We’ve got a lot of things to look at, a lot of things to do,” Johnson said. “We have nowhere to go today but forward.”
The board’s members are Johnson, Michigan Board of Pharmacy Chair Nichole Cover, Police Officers’ Association of Michigan board member David LaMontaine, retired Michigan State Police sergeant Donald Bailey and Pickard Group president and CEO Vivian Pickard.
A few public commenters were critical of Bailey due to his past in drug enforcement while working with the Michigan State Police and questioned his presence on the board. Bailey said he plans to stick to the letter of the law when approving licenses and ensure there’s a “high degree of integrity” on the part of license applicants.
“I think you’ve got to start clean – this is medicine, you need to treat it like medicine,” he said.
Legislation signed by Gov. Snyder in September 2016 gave the go-ahead for state government to regulate the medical marijuana industry after the 2008 voter-initiated law to legalize it led to grey areas and legal battles. Regulatory functions include the licensing, investigation and enforcement of medical marijuana growers, processors, secure transporters, provisioning centers and safety compliance facilities.
The law requires the Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation, housed in the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, to make licensing applications available by December 15, 2017.
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