In the Michigan medical marijuana world, with all of its legalese and jargon, things tend to get a little confusing, especially for the uninitiated or uninformed. Even for those more well versed in the language surrounding medical marijuana and its decriminalization, the terminology and acronyms can be truly dizzying.
It’s been just over a year since the Michigan Legislature passed a series of bills creating a licensing and regulatory framework for medical marijuana, called the Michigan Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act (MMFLA), expanding upon the legislation outlining the rules and regulations for the use of legal medical marijuana, which was overwhelmingly approved by Michigan voters back in 2008. Enforced under the Dept. of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board, the aim of this act is to protect patients and to implement fair and efficient regulations.
Though marijuana is still technically an illegal drug under federal and state law. The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA), Initiated Law 1 of 2008, allows qualified patients and registered caregivers identified with those patients to use marijuana for specified medical conditions. That law did not legalize marijuana, but it prohibits prosecuting or penalizing qualified patients and registered caregivers who use marijuana for medical purposes as long as they comply with the MMMA.
On September 21, 2016, Governor Rick Snyder signed the MMFLA, significantly increasing the types of medical marijuana facilities permitted under state law, and establishing a licensing plan that’s very similar to that of liquor licenses. Think about it like this – after decriminalizing medical marijuana back in 2008, all those patients needed sources for their medication. The MMFLA aims to outline how people can provide medical marijuana for patients that utilize it, and that includes a wide range of facilities, operations, and businesses, each of which must meet and comply with a litany of rules and regulations.
The Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act (MMFLA) creates five types of licensed medical marijuana businesses — growers, processors, secure transporters, testing facilities and dispensaries. However, before the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) will consider an application for any of the five licenses in a community, the community would have to opt into the provisions of the MMFLA.
In other words, the MMFLA was passed and signed last year, but will officially take effect on Dec. 15, 2017, meaning that growers, processors, transporters, provisioning centers and safety compliance facilities within the medical marijuana industry will be able to begin applying for licenses under the act on that date.
And herein lies the problem. Many local governments have not been eager to welcome marijuana-related businesses into their communities, citing a whole host of reasons. Many municipalities have either voted to opt out or have done nothing, which as of Dec. 15 is the same as opting out. However, even after Dec. 15, licenses will still be issued for 3-4 months.
So, after Dec. 15, 2017, any provisioning center or other activity involving marijuana that does not comply with the MMMA will still be illegal, unless the municipality has adopted an ordinance that authorizes that type of facility under the MMFLA. If a municipality wants to allow medical marijuana facilities to operate within its boundaries, that area has approximately two days to meet the deadline to opt in, or adopt an ordinance allowing one or more medical marijuana businesses or facilities.
Any time after Dec. 15, a municipality that decides to allow medical marijuana facilities to operate within its boundaries would need to adopt an ordinance allowing one or more of the specific types of facilities authorized by the MMFLA. The ordinance should specify which type or types of facilities—and how many of each type—the municipality is choosing to allow. And it should be noted that licenses will still be issued even after the Dec. 15 deadline.
So, what would lead a municipality to adopt an ordinance allowing medical marijuana facilities to operate within their boundaries? There are a number of reasons. Some communities accept medical marijuana use for compassionate reasons, including but not limited to terminal illnesses. And many believe that the new Facilities Licensing Act will better enable, or simplify, the spirit and actual practice of the patient-caregiver relationship. Other communities may be responding to a real demand or a broad majority support locally for providing medical marijuana facilities and business opportunities. And, probably most importantly to municipalities, it may represent a significant revenue source.
Where would the revenue come from, you may wonder.
Once a municipality adopts an ordinance allowing one or more of the types of facilities authorized by the MMFLA, the municipality may require “an annual, nonrefundable fee of not more than $5,000 on a licensee to help defray administrative and enforcement costs associated with the operation of a marihuana facility in the municipality.” And when they say “nonrefundable,” they mean that the fee is not returned even if the license is revoked.
Also, the municipality can cash in on property tax revenues. After all, these facilities are businesses and can actually be quite profitable. In some communities, medical marijuana facilities will utilize commercial properties that are currently vacant or even off the tax roll due to foreclosure, bringing in jobs and money, and enhancing the community’s growth.
A state tax will also be imposed on each provisioning center at the rate of 3 percent of the provisioning center’s gross retail receipts, which will go to the state Medical Marihuana Excise Fund. The money in the fund will be allocated, upon appropriation, to the state, counties, and municipalities in which a marijuana facility is located, with “25 percent to municipalities in which a marihuana facility is located, allocated in proportion to the number of marihuana facilities within the municipality.” That represents quite a lot of money to the municipalities that opt-in.
In order to ensure safety and security in those municipalities that have opted in, many planning officials have established several buffer zones between medical marijuana operations and the rest of the community. Medical marijuana businesses cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a school, 500 feet from a commercial pre-school or daycare, 200 feet from a city park and 500 feet from a federal building (post office, armory).
So, what does all of this mean to you? Well, if you’re still reading this, chances are you’re either interested in seeing what the MMFLA can do for your community, or you want to know how all of this will impact or affect you or your business. The most important thing to take away from all of this is that you need to be aware of your rights and remain vigilant in keeping up with this legislation.
Some municipalities are simply more transparent than others in regards to medical marijuana and its regulations, and maintain open lines of communication with those that utilize it or operate businesses that fall under the umbrella of the MMFLA.
In the municipalities that do not remain as communicative or forthcoming, many individuals, including Lapeer-based attorney Bernard Jocuns, assert that certain steps will need to be taken to keep people informed about these laws and stipulations. In order to uphold a functioning and operational municipality that has opted in on these ordinances, there must be avenues for business owners and medical marijuana patients to better understand their rights and what is expected of them.
This is precisely why Jocuns has argued for a Marijuana Advisory Board in Lapeer. The mission of the marijuana advisory board, which was clearly outlined in a proposal Jocuns distributed, would be “Bridging the gap between law enforcement, citizens, local elected officials, and business owners to promote safe access, safe use, and to protect the children of Lapeer County. Encouraging a positive transition to the community that will have marijuana businesses and preparing for legalization of adult use of marijuana in Lapeer County.”
Jocuns insists that the confusion involved with medical marijuana laws and regulations, which is already at a near fever pitch, will only be exacerbated by the upcoming MMFLA regulations and guidelines. In order to ensure that municipalities are safe, fair, and just, Jocuns says that communication is key.
“A lot of law enforcement do not understand the big picture,” Jocuns said, adding that many counties in Michigan have essentially turned marijuana-related cases “into a cash cow.” Jocuns cited the roughly 300 drug-related cases prosecuted annually in Lapeer County — a majority, he said, are marijuana-related, many of which, he says are completely avoidable.
Jocuns upholds that it’s time for local leaders to re-examine the resources being expended on enforcement of marijuana-related arrests and court cases and that an advisory board could be an important first step in the right direction.
“Inevitably, what needs to happen is patients, caregivers, local elected officials, and law enforcement really need to be on the same page,” Jocuns said.
Unfortunately, the “cash cow” that Jocuns is describing when he talks about the marijuana-related offenses in his municipality, is difficult to kill. This is true for many reasons, not the least of which is that it represents a substantial flow of income to the law enforcement in municipalities that have opted in on the ordinance. This also serves to underscore the fact that those involved in medical marijuana-related businesses, as well as patients, must uphold their commitment to continued education in regards to the subject and all that it encompasses, lest they fall into the category of offenders.
With all of that in mind, let’s say you want to move forward and apply. How do you go about applying for a medical marijuana facility license? It’s actually quite simple. Simply visit www.michigan.gov/lara, and you’ll be able to obtain an application for prospective licensees.
On December 15, 2017, LARA will begin accepting online or paper form applications, utilizing a two-step application process for medical marijuana facility licensing that includes Pre-Qualification and License Qualification. This two-step process will allow applicants to begin the application process by completing step one before a location for the medical marijuana facility is established. If applicants have a location secured, they will have the option of submitting step one and step two materials at the same time.
Pre-Qualification will include a full background check of the applicant and all supplemental applicants. This includes but is not limited to individuals or businesses with an ownership interest (direct or indirect) in the applicant. As part of the Pre-Qualification, applicants must disclose those individuals and businesses with an indirect or direct ownership interest. Before an applicant’s Pre-Qualification materials can be reviewed and processed, a $6,000 application fee must be paid, either in-person or online. And again, Pre-Qualification may be completed before an applicant has a physical location for its business.
Step two, or License Qualification, requires information specific to the physical location of the applicant’s business as well as to which type of facility license the potential licensee is applying. If applicants have a location secured, they will have the option of submitting Pre-Qualification and License Qualification materials at the same time.
While an application is being processed, a representative from the Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation (BMMR) will be assigned to each applicant and will stay in communication throughout the process. In order to ensure this process runs smoothly, applicants should make sure they meet and satisfy all requirements on the Pre-Qualification checklist, which is also available online.
For final approval, an applicant cannot be issued a license until all requirements in the MMFLA and administrative rules are met. After License Qualification (step two) is completed, BMMR will present the completed application to the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board (MMLB). Upon approval from the MMLB, an applicant will be required to pay a regulatory assessment for each license. Once the regulatory assessment is received, the license(s) will be issued.
Once again, the most significant thing you should be taking away from all of this is that you must remain aware of what is expected of you at all times, remain educated and cognizant of the ever-changing legislation regarding your medication or your business. In order to help facilitate this, or for more information about the MMFLA, visit Jocuns’ website at www.jocuns.com.