New medical marijuana laws could boost business and municipal revenues
By Charles Crumm, The Oakland Press
Key Dates in the evolution of medical marijuana in Michigan:
• 2008 – Michigan voters approve a ballot question legalizing medical marijuana with 63 percent support, becoming the 13th state to legalize medical marijuana.
• 2010 – Dispensaries begin to appear in 2010, followed by municipal bans on medical marijuana and police raids on dispensaries, triggering court cases that remain unresolved today.
• 2013 – Michigan Supreme Court rules dispensaries are not allowed under Michigan’s medical marijuana law.
• 2016 – Michigan lawmakers adopt a framework for the regulation of dispensaries or provisioning centers, production, and testing of medical marijuana.
“Locations coming soon in Detroit and NOW OPEN in Pontiac,” says a posting from Sky High Head Shop and Wellness Center in Pontiac on the website wheresweed.com.
The business name is still above the storefront in the strip mall on Huron Street, but there’s another smaller sign taped to the door that says, “For Rent.”
Sky High, a dispensary, was raided by the Oakland County Narcotics Enforcement Team in 2014. The proprietor was later charged and sentenced to two years probation on marijuana charges.
In Waterford Township, in another strip mall on Cass Lake Road, two businesses are side by side: MMMP Physician Certification Center, and OG Smokes and Accessories, a hydroponics shop. Both are in business.
The experiences in the two communities show the shifting landscape of medical marijuana laws and businesses in Michigan, particularly Oakland County. Physician certification and hydroponics are legal; dispensaries are not.
More changes are in the works for the 2008 voter-approved law that legalized medical marijuana in Michigan.
New laws passed last fall regulates the growing and distribution of medical marijuana in Michigan, and allows for provisioning centers. It’s the latest change in state laws aiming to clarify the 2008 ballot proposal.
The new regulatory system, expected to be in place by the end of the year, is hoped to bring order to medical marijuana distribution. The lack of, or vagueness, of regulations has been criticized for leading to criminal prosecutions of people who thought they were complying with the intent of the ballot proposal. Many of those prosecutions remain unresolved.
Rick Colon, at OG Smokes & Accessories in Waterford, thinks the new laws may expand medical marijuana businesses.
“Possibly, if Waterford lifted its moratorium and Oakland County wasn’t beating down on everything,” he said. “People are going to have to rely on dispensaries.”
The new regulations may also be a chance for municipalities, some of which have shunned medical marijuana, to capitalize on taxes and fees from allowing the businesses.
The New Laws
Passed last year, the new laws seek to create a tightly controlled system for making and distributing medical marijuana, cited by advocates as easing complications from numerous medical conditions.
The newest legislation establishes licensed growers that can sell to licensed processors or dispensaries, who then sell to patients and caregivers.
Until now, growing medical marijuana has been limited to licensed patients or caregivers, with limits on the number of plants and — for caregivers — limits on the number of registered patients.
Neil Rockind is an Oakland County attorney who sits on the legal advisory board of the advocacy group My Compassion.
He expects the new regulatory structure to setting up a medical marijuana provisioning center will be vigorous.
“There are some people who think this will be like (getting) a fishing license,” Rockind said. “I anticipate it’s going to be more complicated. People will have to show they have the licensing and wherewithal to open one from the ground up.
“Ultimately, people are going to be able to obtain local permits and licenses that choose to opt in to having medical marijuana commercial facilities within their city limits.”
It’s up to cities to decide if having medical marijuana provisioning centers within their limits is desirable, but Rockind said they’ll be able to decide how to regulate them.
“Cities can choose to allow certain types of facilities, a limited number of facilities, choose to zone them, or pass any rules they want,” Rockind said.
“For some cities it’s going to be a real boom. It can invigorate industrial or other areas that were neglected and generate substantial revenues.”
The demand for marijuana as medicine as grown significantly from 2011 through 2016:
• Macomb County had 229 registered medical marijuana patients in 2011 and 19,455 in 2016, according to the Michigan Dept. of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
• Oakland County had 661 registered patients in 2011 and 24,416 in 2016.
• Wayne County had 4,191 registered patients in 2011 and 34,941 in 2016.
In more rural outstate areas, the growth in medical marijuana patients has mostly been slower, but not always:
• Clare County had 825 registered patients in 2011 and 931 in 2016.
• Gratiot County had 738 patients in 2011 and 978 in 2016.
• Isabella County had 148 registered patients in 2011 and 1,113 in 2016.
Unfinished Court Cases
Among the oldest unfinished court cases in Oakland County is that of Barbara Agro. She and her family ran the dispensary Clinical Relief in Ferndale until August 2010 when it was raided by county sheriff’s deputies.
Other raids and cases have resulted in convictions. Some have resulted in appeals to higher courts as laws have changed or appeals have clarified what courts say is the intent behind ballot proposal.
However, the new regulations going into place doesn’t mean old or pending medical marijuana prosecutions go away.
Mary Chartier-Mittendorf is one of the attorneys representing Agro.
“The new law on provisioning centers and other aspects of marijuana businesses does not affect ongoing cases,” Chartier-Mittendorf said.
“Of course, prosecutors certainly have the discretion to recognize the will of the people and now the legislators and choose to spend their limited funds on true crimes that negatively impact communities rather than prosecuting patients and caregivers.
“Some prosecutors will exercise their discretion wisely and others will likely choose to continue to waste taxpayer dollars and prosecute people for helping patients with true medical needs.”