Michigan Grapples With Marijuana Licensing

By Kelly Burch 04/03/19
Michigan has been slow to give out business licenses to sell marijuana.
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marijuana proponents in Michigan

A judge in Michigan ruled this week that the state could not shut down marijuana retailers while they await a review of their application for a license to sell marijuana.

The ruling highlights the latest in a series of hurdles facing states in the process of setting up a retail marijuana market. In Michigan, which became the first midwestern state to legalize recreational cannabis last November, marijuana business owners have complained about the state’s slow approval process. 

Because the state has been slow to give out licenses, dispensaries have been allowed to remain open while their applications were reviewed, according to the Detroit Metro Times.

There had been a deadline of March 31, but on Thursday (March 28) a judge from the Michigan Court of Claims barred the state from shutting down the shops. 

"Until further order of the court, [The Bureau of Marijuana Regulation] will maintain the status quo and not enforce the March 31 deadline with respect to both temporary operating facilities and caregiver products,” said David Harns, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

Even though Michigan legalized marijuana, the slow pace of setting up its legal market has allowed illegal sales to continue to thrive. Not to mention the steep cost of obtaining a license to sell marijuana—which includes a $6,000 application fee and $66,000 a year for the license.

The state has struggled to license enough dispensaries to keep up with demand, Harns said in February

“We are focused on moving ahead by setting [a] regulatory framework to help create an industry in which licensed businesses can be successful,” he said. “We are constantly in contact with stakeholders, licensed operators and applicants to get a better understanding of how the regulatory environment affects them.”

Michigan isn’t the only state that has legalized marijuana only to grapple with licensing issues.

In March, the Sacramento Bee reported that California officials had approved only a fraction of its total applications received. The state gave out temporary licenses as a way to keep the legal market going despite the slow approval process.

However, those temporary licenses are set to expire in the coming months and California has yet to approve enough permanent licensing to support the legal cannabis industry. 

“This is the worst way to transition a multibillion-dollar agricultural crop, which employs thousands of Californians. Without legal licenses, there isn’t a legal, regulated market in California,” said State Sen. Mike McGuire, a Democrat who sponsored a bill to extend the validity of temporary licenses. 

McGuire added, “In a time where the Golden State is working overtime to bring the cannabis industry out of the black market and into the light of a legal regulatory environment, we can’t afford to let good actors who want to comply with state law fall out of our regulated market just because timelines are too short and departments have been unable to process applications in time due to the sheer number of applications.”

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

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