Senate Passes Key Bills
After more than a year in limbo, the Michigan Senate has acted on a series of bills first passed by the House regulating Provisioning Centers and Medibles. While not perfect, Michigan for the first time will have legal framework for Dispensaries. Many in the medical marijuana community are upset about the form this framework has taken, preferring instead to continue the shadow system available in some parts of the state. But in reality this is the first step to address many conflicts in the current law. The most notable of these conflicts are the legal status of both edibles and dispensaries. Even such things as the definition of a ‘plant’ are refined. A ‘plant’, by the way, is pretty much any living thing that carries out photosynthesis OR is found in a growth medium.
Before going into the bills and outlining some of the key points, as a long time activist and politically active member of the community, I’d like to make a couple of observations.
Despite concerns already expressed in the marijuana community press, this will not affect self growing patients or traditional caregivers growing for their registry associated patients. If you don’t like the way they did it, you don’t have to participate in the system- just continue to grow for yourself and your patients. Nothing will change. Transportation is a little better defined, and medibles/extracts are addressed, as are safety matters (butane extraction). Concerns about this being the first step in getting rid of home grows and the caregiver system, while important to consider, are at this point theoretical. Make sure you are registry connected to your patients and check your copies of your documents.
I preferred the farmers market system for a very simple reason. Many caregivers operating under the current law had overages, and the ability to sell these overages to qualified patients (AFTER taking care of their registry associated patients) was a way to earn money and better their lives and financial health. This is important not only to the caregivers and their families, but to the Michigan economy in these troubled times. It also kept the big players out of the cannabis business and spread the opportunity amongst thousands of Michigan families. It gave them the ability to earn a modest income, to pay their bills, and better their lives through their own efforts.
When dispensaries were first tried in the early days of the Act, we saw new vehicles in town, homes repaired, new clothes, and people paying down debt to take control of their own lives again. It provided income for the dispensary owners, it provided income to the caregivers selling their overages, and it got the medicine to those that needed it at relatively reasonable prices.
The new bills close that opportunity and, like so many things today, once again restrict the opportunity to achieve the American Dream to those that already have the money and power. Provisioning Centers, Growing Licenses, Transport Licenses, etc will only go to those able to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars. Ordinary people like you and I will not be able to participate. Commercial Cannabis will simply become a new version of Big Pharma, and may even involve the same players. Patients, as always, will pay the bills. As always, rich folks will find new ways to get richer as growers, distributors, and provisioning center owners. Secured Transport and Compliance Testing Facilities will pop up and be regulated.
There will be taxes, those taxes will benefit local communities. But those taxes will be raised on the backs of the sick, who will also be paying the profits of those who own the secure transport, testing, processing, large commercial grows, and distributorships. Not to mention the new regulatory agencies, lawyers, law enforcement and computer software companies required to monitor and regulate the system. My advice is learn to grow for yourself or use a service like Grassmatch.com to locate a personal caregiver yourself. It is clearly the least expensive option.
The Bills Outlined
The new Regulations for Provisioning Centers as passed by the Senate are extensive, complicated, and will require professional legal interpretation to avoid misunderstanding and problems. The Bill is over 60 pages long. Key features include the following:
All commercial marijuana operations and all associated occupations related to commercial marijuana will fall under the jurisdiction of a ‘Medical Marijuana Licensing Board’ based on a ‘Liquor Commission’ model. There are over 40 pages of regulations in the bill concerning the makeup, activities and authority of this board. Any licensee in one class may not have any interest in any other class (a grower cannot be a safety compliance facility, nor have any financial interest in one for example). Nor may they be involved in the medical certification for a medical marijuana license. There will be a seed to sale system of documentation, 24 verification, and other requirements.
There are three classes of growers based on maximum number of plants (A) 500, (B) 1000, and (C) 1500. A grower must have 2 years experience as a caregiver, may not be both a grower and a caregiver, may not employ caregivers. They must use a secure transporter to move marijuana. There are extensive documentation requirements (as part of the ‘seed to sale’ system). Grow facilities must have proper zoning. They can sell seeds to other growers but may only sell marijuana to processors or provisioning centers via secure transporter.
Processors- May obtain marijuana from growers via secured transport. Must have at least one employee with 2 years experience as a licensed caregiver but no employees that are current caregivers. May sell marijuana directly to provisioning centers via secured transport. There are extensive documentation requirements both as a processor and as part of the seed to sale tracking system. They can sell marijuana or marijuana products to a provisioning center.
Secure Transporter- Operates secured (does not required armored) unmarked vehicles with two person crews. Extensive background checks, law enforcement inspection, specified routes on file, and documentation requirements.
Provisioning Centers- Purchase marijuana and marijuana products from growers and processors for sale to registered patients and caregivers. Subject to extensive documentation, background checks, and daily limits. Prior to sale, all marijuana and marijuana products must be tested and properly packaged.
Safety Compliance Facility- A testing facility unrelated to any other licensee. Must receive and deliver marijuana to and from a ‘marihuana facility’ via secured transport.
Taxes- 3% of gross sales of provisioning centers, with about 60% going to local communities (including designated amounts to local law enforcement). $500,000 off the top to substance abuse programs.
A State Wide Monitoring System is created.
Rather tedious, but basically every commercial transaction is immediately reported to a database accessible by the police and other regulatory agencies. Full seed to sale tracking. 24 hour a day verification.
This bill modifies the MMMA to account for provisioning centers and commercial marijuana operations, licenses and tracking. There is also some housekeeping to better define plants, create the concept of ‘marijuana equivalents’, and hold law enforcement harmless for retroactive application of clarifications (methods of calculating weight for example). Some key features:
$8,500,000 is taken out of the MMMP fund from registration fees as a one time appropriation to fund setting up the new regulatory systems.
Marijuana infused products are specifically allowed, and the concept of ‘marijuana equivalent weight’ is defined (careful here, check with a lawyer)
A plant is any living organism with photosynthesis and root formation OR, and this is a big OR, is in ‘growth material’.
The total of 2.5 ounces of marijuana are calculated based on ‘usable marijuana’ plus ‘marijuana equivalent’ with 1 ounce equivalent equalling 16 ounces of marijuana infused ‘solid’, 7 grams of marijuana infused ‘gaseous’, and 36 ounces of marijuana infused ‘liquid’. This will clearly need some clarification to define what they are talking about and how to stay in your limits. My first uneducated impression is that if you had 16 ounces of brownie and 1.5 ounces of smokable bud you are right at the limit, but I would NOT risk jail on that impression.
Patients cannot divert their marijuana to anyone, and caregivers MUST be registry associated to any patient to which they transfer cannabis.
Patients and Caregivers may transport their own medication in a sealed, LABELED container in the trunk or otherwise inaccessible to the occupants of the vehicle.
There are specific sections added to the MMMA to allow the activities created by the previously noted 2 bills.
Work to Be Done
In additional to the new licensee’s other businesses will need to come on board. Banking is the obvious unnamed player- currently banks not only refused to handle marijuana related money in states with legalized cannabis, they have refused OUR accounts as a certification clinic despite the fact we have nothing to do with cannabis itself. Software companies will need to develop the required seed to sale tracking software and interface it with the state. Authorized agencies will need to be trained in its use. State Agencies will need to develop administrative rules and put the machinery in place to handle the data, collect the taxes, monitor the program, and enforce the regulations.
Probably the biggest concern is the hidden poison pill- requirements for insurance. We are a medical certification clinic and have been denied insurance on that basis alone. How is a grower, processor or provisioning center going to get the required insurance? The financial cost of starting these businesses, already prohibitively high, will be higher as many businesses will be required to ‘self insure’ or pay bondsmen. How do you determine the level of risk and determine the premium in a new field?
Clearly this is not a legal opinion, interpretation, or recommendation. The links to the original bills as passed by the Senate are clearly marked, just click on the links and they will open. Do not attempt any action based on this discussion until 1/ all bills are passed and signed into law, 2/ you have the services of a lawyer. This is a HIGHLY regulated system, it is not to be entered lightly and there are very serious consequences of making a mistake, even a small one. The days of the ‘cowboy’ dispensary, local authorities looking the other way, and ‘surprise’ raids will be over if this passes and goes into effect. As one of the attorneys involved in this legislation says, ‘We have a liquor control commission but people can still brew their own beer and make their own wine’. But now like liquor you can’t sell cannaibis without a license, a tax, and a lot of regulation. Except, of course, as a registry associated caregiver to your up to 5 patients.