Lansing — The state intends to hold fast to a Sept. 15 deadline for operating medical marijuana businesses to get licensed or shut down.
Access to medical marijuana is not as challenging for patients as it would have been when a temporary emergency rule months ago allowed those facilities to continue operating through Sept. 15, said Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation Director Andrew Brisbo.
“The intention of the temporary operation rule was to provide continuous patient access,” Brisbo said. “Now that we have licenses in the system, albeit a small number of licenses, … there is still access.”
The insistence on the Sept. 15 deadline comes as people urged the state during comment at Thursday’s licensing board meeting to push back the deadline again.
An “industry shutdown” in September would have implications for Republican politicians as patients’ anger would fall on GOP Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican Party, said Rick Thompson, a board member of marijuana groups MIlegalize and NORML of Michigan.
All politicians, he said, “should be aware of the electoral damage a shutdown would have.”
While the state implemented its licensing system for medical marijuana businesses, applicants who were operating existing business were told if they submitted applications before Feb. 15 they would have until Sept. 15 to continue operating without risking repercussions in the licensing process.
As of Thursday, the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board had granted 16 licenses including seven provisioning centers in four separate communities: Jackson, Burton, Detroit and Dearborn. The locations ensure at least 67 percent of Michigan’s 290,230 medical marijuana cardholders live in counties within 30 miles of a licensed center and 75 percent within 60 miles, according to the state.
Unlicensed facilities still open on Sept. 16 will be issued cease-and-desist letters, Brisbo said. The agency also could notify local police if the centers continue operating.
Other members of the public Thursday complained about the arduous background checks associated with the licensing process and board members' concern over businesses that operated in the “gray market” before the state created a licensing process.
“They've now essentially taken the position that anybody who had prior operations in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing — any of these other cities that allowed dispensaries to operate — none of those guys are going to get licensed under the precedent that they just set today,” said Lance Boldrey, an attorney for three of the businesses denied prequalification Thursday.
The complaints come as the board licensed the first two testing facilities in the state, Iron Laboratories in Walled Lake and PSI Labs in Ann Arbor.
The approvals were an important step for the burgeoning medical marijuana industry. Other facilities such as provisioning centers, secure transport services, grow operations and processors had already been approved by the state in July but were waiting on licensed testing facilities where they could test and register their product with the state.
“It means we have a complete system now so the licensees can continue operating,” Brisbo said, of the Thursday approvals for the testing facilities.
To obtain their state licenses, businesses also must pay a regulatory assessment of $48,000.
Once the facilities are in operation, they’ll have to renew their licenses annually and be subject to inspections at least twice a year by the state and the Bureau of Fire Services.
The 10-stage application process that the medical marijuana entrepreneurs have undertaken includes a $6,000 application fee, a review by a contract investigation firm and an intelligence work-up by the Michigan State Police.
The bureau is reviewing and processing hundreds of lengthy applications under the 2016 law to ensure they meet benchmarks, including high “moral character, integrity and reputation.”
The state has approved 51 of 637 prequalification applications and denied 23. Of the 347 applications for state operating licenses, 16 have been approved and two denied.
Applicants have appealed seven denials issued by the medical marijuana licensing board. An administrative judge is expected to begin hearing those appeals next week.