More than 18,000 people and 678 vendors gathered in Las Vegas for the MJBizCon, a conference all about the cannabis industry.
LANSING — On a frigid, snowy December morning nearly 10 years after medical marijuana became legal in Michigan, the fully regulated business officially started.
The day started with a whimper, rather than the bang state regulators had prepared for. Two hours after the doors opened at the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, only two people had shown up to turn in their applications for medical marijuana licenses.
Only two Michigan State Police officers stood on guard outside, waiting along the stanchions and red velvet ropes that formed a line for a crush of people that didn’t show up.
Online was a different story, 91 people logged into the system between 12:01 a.m. when it went live to 4 p.m. Friday, 68 of those people submitted at least some of the documents required to apply for a medical marijuana license and five of those people turned in completed applications and paid the $6,000 fee. But only nine people showed up at LARA offices in Lansing to turn in applications.
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Dan Madigan, an Ann Arbor resident, was the first to show up, hoping to make the transition from a caregiver who has been supplying clients — mostly veterans with ailments like post traumatic stress disorder and cancer — with marijuana, to a Class A grower in Washtenaw County, who can produce up to 500 medical marijuana plants.
“I’m the first one, where’s my prize,” he said. “Ever since I started working with veterans, I felt good about this, because I’m a veteran and it’s the right thing to do.”
He started as a caregiver about four years ago when a couple of friends who are veterans became ill and wanted medical marijuana.
“I asked them where did they get it and it was off the street,” he said. “That’s how I started. Everything I grow was tested, no pesticides.”
Andrew Brisbo, director of the state’s Bureau of Medical Marijuana Licensing, stayed up all night at the department watching as applications started to roll in online.
“It was exciting. It’s the culmination of a years worth of hard work,” he said.
The state, which passed a vague medical marijuana ballot proposal in 2008, finally got around to passing a law that would regulate and tax the medicinal cannabis last year and began accepting license applications Friday morning.
The original medical marijuana ballot proposal allows caregivers to grow up to 72 marijuana plants for up to five people with medical marijuana cards. But there were never any hard and fast rules for those growers, so an atmosphere of lawlessness prevailed in many parts of the state.
Some cities turned a blind eye to the “caregiver centers” that popped up across the state, allowing marijuana dispensaries to operate relatively undisturbed. But other areas of the state cracked down, raiding, arresting and prosecuting people who were growing and distributing marijuana to people with chronic illnesses.
Lawmakers tried for several years to regulate the marijuana market and legalize non-smokable forms of medical marijuana, such as baked goods, candies and infused oils, but couldn’t get a package together that gained the support of essential groups, especially law enforcement, until last year.
Now with the fully regulated market, five categories of licenses — grower, processor, testing facility, secure transporter and dispensaries — will begin to be handed out in the spring by the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board. And then legal sales and growing operations can begin for the 265,607 Michiganders who have medical marijuana cards.
The market is expected to have at least $711 million in sales, bringing in $21 million in tax revenue to the state from a 3% excise tax on sales of medical marijuana at dispensaries. If a ballot proposal to fully legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, which includes a 16% tax on sales, makes it on the November 2018 ballot and passes, those sales and revenue numbers will rise dramatically.
But on Friday, with four stations open to accept applications standing mostly empty, state officials said it was better to be ready for a crush, especially with nearly 2,000 people showing up for classes held around the state last month to explain the licensing process
“One of the challenging things all along was predicting how many applications we’d get and how many people there would be,” Brisbo said. “We wanted to over prepare versus under prepare. We’ve been consistently surprised with the interest that we’ve had with everything that we’ve done since the passage of these bills.”
Hernani Badiola, of Brighton, turned in a license application for a dispensary and grow operation in Washtenaw County on behalf of her sister. She hopes to get involved in the business as a patient rather than a partner.
“I’ve had a stroke and I’m recovering from breast cancer. I refuse to go through chemo,” she said. “I’ve tried, but I want to deal with my problem painlessly.”
There is no deadline for applications with the state. Under the law passed last year, the state cannot put limits on the number of licenses awarded. But cities, townships and villages can determine if they want medical marijuana businesses in their towns and how many businesses they’ll allow. They can also decide to not allow any marijuana businesses in their community.
Contact Kathleen Gray: 313-223-4430, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @michpoligal
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