Michigan to marijuana shops: Close by Dec. 15 or risk licensure

The state of Michigan on Wednesday gave medical marijuana businesses until Dec. 15 to close or potentially risk not obtaining a license under a new regulatory system aimed at increasing oversight and imposing new taxes on the industry.

The decision means registered patients will have to grow their own pot or obtain it from caregivers - as allowed for under existing law - until the state issues the licenses, likely in the first quarter of next year. It will accept license applications starting Dec. 15.

After learning of the decision, a new state licensing board dropped a member's proposal to tell shops they would not get a license if they stayed open beyond this Friday - which had been blasted by patients, shop owners and others. They expressed concern, however, with the new deadline as well, questioning how some patients will buy their marijuana.

The dispensaries - which are not explicitly addressed under a 2008 voter-approved medical marijuana laws - have gone unchecked in some municipalities and have been blocked in others under a Michigan Supreme Court ruling that questioned their legality.

A five-tiered licensing system is being developed under a 2016 law that further regulates medical marijuana. It will impose a new tax and establish licenses to grow, process, sell, transport or test marijuana.

Andrew Brisbo, director of the state's medical marijuana bureau, said dispensaries still open after Dec. 15 will face a "potential impediment to licensure." Three months affords enough time for existing operations to wind down their affairs and for patients to connect with caregivers, he said.

"The department will not shut down facilities," Brisbo said. "However, continued operation is a business risk as they may be shut down by law enforcement or denied licensure."

PATIENTS WORRIED

Patients say medical marijuana is life-changing and they can't afford to go without it while regulators try to work out the kinks in the law. Many medical marijuana patients say they'll figure out some way to get the pot.

"I don't want to do anything illegal, that's why I got my card," Janice D'Agnillo said.

She's been a medical marijuana patient since 2009. She's not alone. The irony of potentially shutting down medical marijuana facilities is patients are going to get the pot, even if they're closed down.

"Everybody's going to go on the streets and it's not going to be a good situation.  Everyone who's got issues medically needs it, where are they going to turn to?" Sarah McClatchey said.

The dispensaries - which are not explicitly addressed under a 2008 voter-approved medical marijuana laws - have gone unchecked in some municipalities and have been blocked in others under a Michigan Supreme Court ruling that questioned their legality.

Legally, there's still a question of whether or not the state has the authority to shut down the dispensaries. The patients don't necessarily care about the law - they say they need the medicine for pain.

"And then you got to worry about all this marijuana and the guy that's coming to rob you. It's a double-edged sword," an anonymous medical marijuana patient said.

Trying to eliminate the criminal element is exactly what The State's medical marijuana board is supposed to be doing.

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