LANSING, Mich. — In an about-face, Michigan regulators said Wednesday that medical marijuana businesses can stay open while seeking a state license as long as they have been operating with the approval of their local community.
The announcement came after the state previously gave dispensary shops until Dec. 15 to close or potentially risk not obtaining a required license, which sparked a backlash from patients, shop owners and others.
“Patient input played a big factor” in the reversal, said Andrew Brisbo, director of the Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation. The “most vulnerable” patients have the hardest time obtaining marijuana, he said.
Dispensary shops are not explicitly addressed under a 2008 voter-approved medical marijuana law that currently lets 272,000 registered patients grow their own pot or buy it from 43,000 registered caregivers. They 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 regulated medical marijuana and aimed to address confusion. The law will impose a new 3 percent tax on provisioning centers and establish licenses to grow, process, sell, transport or test marijuana.
The state intends to issue emergency rules later this month letting certain dispensaries remain open.
Businesses seeking a permit could avoid an “impediment” to licensure if they have been operating the facility within a municipality that adopted an authorizing ordinance before Dec. 15. They will have to submit a prequalification application by Feb. 15 and submit a document — signed by the local clerk — affirming that the local government had allowed its operation under an ordinance or that the municipality had adopted a new or amended ordinance.
Proposed facilities must stop operating if they do not apply by Feb. 15, if they are denied a license or if they are not issued one by June 15. State officials expect to begin issuing licenses by April.
The about-face was welcomed by lawmakers who had introduced legislation to let dispensaries stay open.
“I think the threat of shutting all of our dispensaries down in Michigan was very shortsighted,” said Rep. Yousef Rabhi, an Ann Arbor Democrat. “The solution isn’t to completely obliterate the system that we’ve been working under as we transition to a new one. The solution is to find a way to transition from our current system into the new system and allow those business owners and those patients a transition that is smooth and that allows them to continue to get that lifesaving medicine that they rely on.”