Currently, there are several major issues facing the newly regulated medical marijuana industry in Michigan. There have been issues in the past with local ordinances causing many businesses owners to close down shop, but the new regulations are putting a serious strain on the industry as a whole. Very few retail locations have been given a license by the state despite a massive amount of submitted applications. Now anyone without a license that continues to operate may face criminal charges and lose the chance of ever obtaining one in the future. Hundreds of these stores have been operating for years under the approval of their local government. Patients and dispensaries never had any issues existing in an unregulated environment. Marijuana has always been unregulated throughout history, like most things that naturally exist. The argument behind regulation is that patients will know where their medicine is coming from and that it’s not contaminated. Realistically, all the regulations are doing is making it harder for the dispensaries that have been approved to serve nearly 300,000 patients.
Testing for contaminations has been available for patients and dispensaries in Michigan for over 5 years now. PSI labs and Iron labs both offer testing when it comes to potency and the presence of mold or pesticides. One of the dispensaries that I had been using before it closed its doors already mandated all products to be tested by their vendors. So the real reason for regulation is so that the government can not only tax it but also control how and where provisioning centers operate. Not only are dispensary owners and their employees getting screwed while the state takes its time licensing, but patients are also affected. People are piling into the few remaining stores and wait times are becoming outrageous. It doesn’t even matter what day or time of day you decide to pick up some medicine. To make the problem even worse, the state is requiring that the approved dispensaries only obtain products from approved cultivators/processors. Word is spreading that shortages are coming very soon because there are nowhere near enough approved growers to supply the current demand. People who are dependent on these shops for access are probably in a panicked state right now. Judging by the number of people I have seen entering the dispensary, there are a lot of people who don’t have caregivers or any black market contacts.
Many patients including myself, strictly go to these stores for the processed forms of the plant that are harder to find at an affordable price. They always seem to have really great deals on edibles, cartridges, and concentrates. The top quality buds are priced higher than what most growers are offering it for. Plenty of low-mid quality buds can be purchased at a great price for the budget smokers who aren’t as interested in higher potency and stronger flavor. After my last few visits, I think I will simply go without the other concentrated forms of the plant for now as prices will likely rise as the available legal supply dwindles. Waiting for more than 30 minutes just to get in the bud room kinda turned me off as well. We will just have to hope the state starts handing out more licenses in a hurry, or the supply issues will continue to get worse.
Since the new year has began, I personally have already had to switch dispensaries that I was using due to the new medical marijuana regulations coming into effect. Starting December 15th of last year, the state began accepting applications for the various types of businesses including: cultivation, processing, transportation, and retail shops. Retail dispensaries that were operating for years without any problems with local ordinances are now receiving letters ordering them to shut down until they are approved for a new license. According to the Detroit Free Press, over 200 dispensaries in the state have been sent these cease and desist letters.
While the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs claims that the availability of medicine will be unaffected for patients, there are other consequences to this move. Although profitable, opening a dispensary demands an enormous amount of overhead and variable costs. All of these business owners who had invested money in both their property as well as the medicine they had in stock, are going to lose patients during the temporary to permanent closure. This is not right, and if they didn’t want them operating they shouldn’t have ever been given permission. Yes they technically were unregulated businesses, but that was how the system had forced them to operate for years under the protection of local ordinances. Some of these businesses in the past had even gone the lengths of relocating in order to comply with the ridiculous zoning requirements imposed by the city of Detroit. Even playing by the rules doesn’t always guarantee protection of your business in this industry. This transition period of awarding licenses to applicants is supposed to end in June, but at it’s current pace many in the industry are expecting delays.
There are many different opinions on whether this regulation is a good thing for the cannabis community or not. The regulation establishes new taxes for those using it for medical purposes. It also will make a system to track a plants progress from seed form to sale and ensure all products are only produced by licensed commercial cultivators. Personally, I think regulation is not a good thing and it should be left to the already existing large community of cultivators who produce much higher quality cannabis on a small scale. The patient- caregiver system that was established in 2008 when medical cannabis passed in Michigan, is still the backbone of the industry. Dispensaries that are currently existing get their medicine from caregivers or patients, not some 3000 plant facility that machine trims commercial quality bud. It seems inevitable that with regulation small time grows will be undercut by those growing on a large scale.
The dispensary that I choose to visit now for my concentrate and edible needs, is much larger then other collectives I had been a member at. The inventory selection is much larger as well as a higher number of employees working. Larger dispensaries seems to be the trend as the number of operating dispensaries continues to be squeezed by the state government. To this day it remains a risky business plan to enter the “not quite regulated” medical marijuana industry in Michigan. For those looking to get into the trade, it would be best to apply for one of the new licenses and then wait before trying to set up shop during this uncertain time.