Michigan’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency held its first-ever meeting on Thursday, and although the agency’s purview includes adult-use recreational marijuana the main topic of the day was worries about an insufficient supply of medical cannabis.
The agency, which began operating on May 1, was formed by an executive order from Governor Gretchen Whitmer to regulate both the medical and adult-use cannabis industry in the state. The June 13 meeting focused largely on the medical cannabis program, with advocates arguing that the shortage has been worsened by the agency’s decision to disallow dispensaries from purchasing medical cannabis directly from caregivers.
“There is no flower in the system. There’s none to be bought. I’m running out,” said Jacob Abraham, who owns Sticky Ypsi, a medical cannabis dispensary.
Michigan has close to 300,000 medical cannabis cardholders. And though medical cannabis has been legal in Michigan since 2008, the state only started issuing licenses to growers and processors last year. The newly-licensed supply has not met the demand, as a result.
Meanwhile, the roughly 40,000 registered caregivers—who are allowed to supply five patients at a time with homegrown medical cannabis—have stepped in to fill the supply gap. They were allowed by the state to sell their excess product to licensed dispensaries last year. But under the agency’s new directive, issued on May 2, caregivers can now only sell their homegrown cannabis to licensed growers or producers who will then test it for heavy metals, mold, and other contamination before selling to dispensaries.
The agency introduced the rule in an attempt to ensure patient access to safe medical cannabis and a shift towards a regulated cannabis market. But that rule has diminished the amount of cannabis in the system, advocates at the meeting said. “I have found myself having to ration my own medication,” said one medical cannabis patient at the meeting, named Angie.
One factor in the shortage: some caregivers are unwilling to take the economic risk of selling their cannabis products to licensed growers and processors, said Allison Ireton, founding partner at Huron Valley Law Associates. If the product is found to be contaminated, during the testing process, it has to be destroyed and caregivers will not be paid, Ireton said.
Licensed cannabis companies, such as Green Peak Innovations, had protested against caregiver cannabis, claiming it to be unsafe. Licensed cannabis growers have also complained about their inability to compete with the cheaper caregiver medical cannabis. Caregivers, on the other hand, have attacked Green Peak and other companies for not producing the type of medicinal cannabis products patients need and focusing more on recreational products.
There have been multiple recalls of caregiver medical cannabis, found to be contaminated with mold, heavy metals, and E.coli, by the state this year. Still advocates for the caregivers argued that patients who buy caregiver cannabis are aware of the fact that the products are untested, as they’re required to sign a waiver before the purchase.
The state’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency replaced the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board, which had been criticized for its slow pace in granting business licenses. The new agency has approved forty business licenses in May alone—a 100 percent increase compared to the last seven months, according to Desmond Mitchell, director of the agency’s licensing division.
“Our mission is to establish Michigan as the national model for a regulatory program that stimulates business growth while ensuring safe consumer access to marijuana,” said Andrew Brisbo, executive director of the agency. The agency will hold its next public meeting in August.