Will Michigan Shut Down Dispensaries Until December?

Michigan’s Medical Marihuana Licensing Board will meet Tuesday and could vote to close the state’s medical cannabis dispensaries until mid-December.

The potential pause is the result of a 2013 state Supreme Court ruling that labeled dispensaries a public nuisance and called into question their legality. Now, more than four years later, the licensing board is attempting to act on the ruling. New state regulations for licensing are scheduled to kick in on Dec. 15, and board members have indicated they will attempt to shut down Michigan’s medical cannabis program until that time.

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Board member Don Bailey introduced the closure motion at an Aug. 21 meeting at which he referenced the Supreme Court ruling and said he believed all dispensaries are currently operating in violation of state law. That sentiment was echoed by board chair Rick Johnson.

While the board has so far postponed action on the motion, members will have another chance to act when the five-member committee reconvenes on Tuesday.

That meeting will come almost exactly a year after the matter was addressed by the Michigan State Senate, which hastily passed legislation on Sept. 9 of last year to clear up the gray area created by the 2013 Supreme Court ruling. In total, lawmakers passed three bills to address questions around dispensaries, edibles, and seed-to-sale tracking systems. The bills’ passage led to the new regulations set to take effect in December.

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But with just three months to go until the regulations kick in, Bailey’s introduced motion would require that all dispensaries temporarily close in order to be eligible for licenses come December.

With one member absent from that meeting, Bailey’s motion wasn’t considered for a vote. But even the suggestion of temporarily closing the state’s dispensaries sparked a response from patients concerned about access.

In a statement to Leafly, David Harns, a spokesman for the Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation (BMMR), said the agency is “currently reviewing the recommendations and discussions from the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board, and consulting with the Attorney General’s office before any action is taken.”

The state’s attorney general, Bill Schuette, is no friend of dispensaries.

At the next meeting, the board will make “a determination” regarding the board’s authority on this matter. Harns said any action ultimately taken will be handled in a manner that takes patients and dispensaries into account.

“BMMR will make recommendations and give guidance to the board on how to best implement any potential actions to ensure that patients are protected and the delivery of services to licensees are fair and efficient,” he said.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the state will act to protect cannabis dispensaries should the board move to temporarily shut down the system, however. The state’s attorney general, Bill Schuette, is no friend of dispensaries.

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Schuette was also the AG at the time of the 2013 Supreme Court ruling. He and a local prosecutor initially brought the case to the Supreme Court and argued in favor of prohibiting retail marijuana sales in any fashion.

As part of the case, Schuette sent a letter to the other 83 county prosecutors with instructions on how to file similar nuisance actions. In a press release, he was quoted as saying that other dispensaries in the state “will have to close their doors.”

Schuette has not publicly updated his stance since the Senate passed its update bill in September 2016.

It was that legislation that created the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board. The bill laid out the procedures for how the five members would be appointed and established its legal authority. By law, the body is charged with the “general responsibility for implementing this act,” but the legislation gives no specific reference or mention of the board’s authority before the regulations are put in place.

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Bailey’s motion seeks to utilize the board’s “jurisdiction over the operation of all marihuana facilities” per state law. If the vote proceeds, support from three of the five members of the board could temporarily halt the retail sale of cannabis, at least until the new regulations take effect in December.

Only four members were present at the Aug. 21 meeting, but with more time and an extra vote at the table, Bailey could receive the support he needs to move forward with the motion when the board meets on Tuesday. The meeting starts at 12 p.m. Eastern Time, and can be viewed via a livestream on the state government website.