Why Michigan’s Marijuana Regulators Want to Shut the Cannabis Industry Down

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Michigan’s medical marijuana industry has had a licensing authority—in this case, the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board—for less than three months. It took two meetings before the licensing board, in charge of overseeing and regulating the state’s cannabis landscape, suggested shutting it all down.

It was a good run. Every outlet offering cannabis for sale to licensed patients would be required to shut down, and shut down very soon, under a proposal from the board last week.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Michigan since 2008. Under state law, a caregiver is allowed to cultivate up to 72 marijuana plants—no more than 12 plants for no more than six patients.

But if you don’t have a caregiver?

Retail outlets offering cannabis in Michigan are technically illegal—and will be until the state starts issuing licenses, a development expected to come as soon as later this year—yet dispensaries have been operating with varying levels of transparency in select cities for years.

For most medical marijuana patients, for whom growing an adequate supply of cannabis is simply too challenging and specialized of a task to do on one’s own—we don’t expect people to grow all their own food or synthesize their own chemicals to make pharmaceutical drugs—a dispensary is the only way to access cannabis without patronizing the black market.

In most cities, dispensaries operate in a sort of gray market area with full knowledge of the police—and everything works out just fine.

In Detroit, there are more than 70 dispensaries offering marijuana for sale that have completed or at least started the city licensing process, according to the Detroit Free Press.

That’s not good enough for Donald Bailey. Bailey is a member of the Michigan licensing board. He’s also a retired Michigan State Police Trooper—and, apparently, he loves rules. Rigid, prescriptive rules, like the 2013 Michigan State Supreme Court decision that ruled dispensaries are violating state law.

“Every dispensary out there is open in violation of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act,” Bailey said during a recent board meeting, according to the Detroit Free Press. “It’s a felony for every sale that occurs from a dispensary.”

Bailey’s plan is to have every dispensary currently in business voluntarily shut down by Sept. 15. Dispensaries that don’t shut down won’t be able to acquire state licenses. At least one fellow board member signaled support for the scheme, which may come up for a vote as soon as September. 

“If we don’t do this today we’re going to do it somewhere in the future,” said board chairman Rick Johnson, according to Mlive.com. “Because it needs to be done.”

The board is set to discuss Bailey’s innovative regulatory approach—if there is no industry to regulate, it’s pretty much already regulated, for good—at its third meeting, to be held sometime before Sept. 15. In the meantime, the state’s weed industry is reeling from the news.

“This is an unprecedented action,” said Tim Beck, one of the advocates behind the 2008 ballot initiative.

It’s also sadly predictable.

On the cover of the current issue of Michigan Medical Marijuana Report is a picture of Don Bailey.

“A guy that spent his entire career opposing marijuana is on the board,” as Frank James, one of the owners of AllWell Natural Health, an organization that used to operate as a dispensary in Gaylord, Michigan, told the local newspaper. “How do I argue with this?”

We say “used to operate as a dispensary” because AllWell, like most other dispensaries north of Flint, have shut down—voluntarily or otherwise—following a string of raids from Michigan State Police. That is, former colleagues and comrades of Bailey’s, who apparently share the same values.

According to the Petoskey News, James has begun telling his former patients to buy marijuana from the black market—because it’s safer.

Bailey is carrying water for his former police officers and for the likes of David Scott, the local supervisor in Commerce Township, a community that reportedly has 67 grow operations. Not outrageous, when you consider each cannot have more than 72 plants. But let’s assume they have a few more plants. Scott does.

“Knock off the crap that’s illegal and is nothing but organized crime,” he fumed at the licensing board’s most-recent meeting, encouraging them to stamp out that which they’re tasked with overseeing.

About that organized crime. Breaking the law is absolutely being encouraged in Michigan right about now.

Here’s the Petoskey News:

[Former dispensary operator Chad] Morrow said people have already begun planning black market seminars after the most recent dispensary raids.

That’s not what anybody in Michigan wants,” he said. “That’s not what I want. I want regulation, and I want legalization.”

The notion that public safety is somehow imperiled by legal marijuana conduct is not entirely unsound. Fires could break out. People could get robbed. Authorities, including the police, can and should step in and help out.

Stamping out what legal industry there is, and guaranteeing marijuana’s return to the drug-dealer’s portfolio, accomplishes the opposite.

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