Amid Michigan Legalization, Black Market Weed Goes Unchecked 

By Kelly Burch 08/09/19

"We're literally seeing hundreds of businesses that have opened up across the state and sell recreational marijuana without a license," said one police official.

marijuana legalization in Michigan
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Voters in Michigan legalized recreational marijuana use last year, but legal dispensaries won’t be operating until 2020 in the state. However, illegal dispensaries are popping up all over the place, and law enforcement is doing little to combat them, according to a recent report. 

"We're literally seeing hundreds of businesses that have opened up across the state and sell recreational marijuana without a license," Michigan State Police Lt. Chris Hawkins told MLive. And yet, he added,"The resources we have to address black market unlicensed marijuana are very limited.”

Going Undercover

Recently, Hawkins sent undercover officers into a medical marijuana dispensary, and they were able to purchase cannabis without showing any identification or a medical marijuana card.

That’s illegal, but Hawkins said that it’s unlikely anything will happen to the dispensary, since many prosecutors and others in law enforcement have decided not to use their limited resources going after black market cannabis. 

The issue is so pervasive in the state that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Andrew Brisbo, director of the Marijuana Regulatory Agency, met about the problem. However, they have not yet reached a solution. 

“We talked about, at some point we really have to start coming down on those who are operating illegally,” Nessel said. “Just the same way we would, by the way, if you were selling cigarettes illegally. Just the same way we would if you had manufactured moonshine in your bathtub, and nobody had tested that to find out if it was safe and you didn’t have a license to sell it. So, at some point, you know, that’s going to be part of the function of our office is to make certain that the laws are enforced and that it’s properly regulated.”

Michigan's Black Market

Michigan’s medical marijuana law allows caregivers to grow cannabis for as many as five people: up to 72 plants total. They are allowed to sell the excess weed to licensed dispensaries, but many turn to the black market instead.

One caregiver who spoke with MLive said that he sells to illegal dispensaries because it is safer than selling himself, but he makes a higher profit and a faster sale than he would be able to make at legal dispensaries. 

Some medical dispensaries are already feeling the pressure of competing with the black market, said Stuart Carter, who owns a licensed medical dispensary. “We're seeing a downturn in our sales,” he said. “For every dispensary, there's four illegal delivery services."

As the state begins to accept applications for recreational dispensaries, Hawkins says that the legal market will only survive if law enforcement clamps down on the black market. 

“I don’t know how the licensed industry survives when there’s a thriving black market where marijuana can be sold untested,” he said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.