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Opinion | Ending pot board is Whitmer payback to Michigan marijuana lobby

Today is the last meeting of the Marihuana Facilities Licensing Board (MFLB). By executive fiat, the governor has reached into the Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act  passed by the legislature in 2016 and struck a key component by eliminating the board, which is due to take effect at the end of the month. To say the state faces a significant problem going forward from here is an understatement by a factor of ten.

The governor has no authority to do this; changes to the legislation correctly occur with the Legislature taking action, but they refuse to intervene so it appears the executive order will stand. Public health, public safety and the entire state of Michigan lose with this executive order.

This decision is not about streamlining a cumbersome licensing process; this is about paying back the marijuana lobby and giving them what they want.”

The governor’s stated goal has been to move marijuana facilities applications through the system faster, laying the blame for the slow pace at the feet of the MFLB. Nothing is farther from the truth.

The MFLB has reviewed every application it has received from Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs’ (LARA) Bureau of Marijuana Regulation. The slow down occurs because of the process required by the licensing act itself; it’s an extensive document collection and submission which then has to be analyzed and, as contemplated by the law, investigated.

With this order abolishing the board, the governor is paying back a very small special interest group, the recreational marijuana lobby. And make no mistake; there is no difference between the medical marijuana community and the recreational marijuana community. While there are certainly people using marijuana for medical purposes, medical marijuana is, and always was, a Trojan Horse for full legalization of recreational marijuana.

Both the attorney general and governor have publicly stated their allegiance to the marijuana lobby and credit their election victories in part to the marijuana support. The attorney general went further and said she wouldn’t be in office without them.

Related: Sea change for Michigan marijuana comes amidst industry chaos
Related: Whitmer kills Michigan marijuana licensing board in favor of new agency
Related: Meet the ex-drug cop who now helps regulate Michigan marijuana

The perception of our elected officials, particularly at the highest level, being controlled by a special interest group is very troubling. The marijuana lobby represents somewhere between 3 percent and 5 percent of Michigan citizens, but hold complete sway over our state’s top administration and the important policy decisions which are being made to regulate marijuana, a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

No, this decision is not about streamlining a cumbersome licensing process; this is about paying back the marijuana lobby and giving them what they want. Many criminals and bad actors have been in the business for years, and they see the requirements of the MFLA as an impediment. The only way to speed up the process is to triple the staff at the Bureau of Marijuana Regulation and do a much less thorough vetting of applicants. As it stands right now, very little meaningful investigation is taking place. Only the most egregious applicants are being identified and culled out of the process.

The marijuana lobby is driving the marijuana policy bus. It certainly looked that way for the previous two years with the last LARA director. When she left her position in state government at the end of 2018 and immediately signed on as a marijuana lobbyist, it becomes very clear.

The decision to allow temporary operations for marijuana business was ill-conceived and amounted to temporary licenses for criminals to continue to break the law. This was a decision by the marijuana lobby, passed to the LARA director, and done with no authority. Breaking the law was given tacit approval by the bureau and created an untenable situation in the courts and for law enforcement.

Related: Whitmer administration changing tone around Michigan marijuana regulation

By allowing the unlicensed, illegal operations for the past two years, the bureau has caused an explosion in the black-market cultivation, processing and sales of marijuana. It will not contract on its own and the attorney general has said that she will not pursue these “victimless” marijuana violations.

Public safety suffers, public health suffers and law enforcement is being thwarted by our policy makers. One of the biggest losers in this is, and will continue to be, the current marijuana facility license holders. Their licenses to operate have been rendered worthless.

Those who have followed the law are forced to compete against criminals who can provide more marijuana product at cheaper prices. Unlicensed operators haven’t invested the time and money into required regulations and safety compliance testing.

It’s estimated up to 90 percent of unlicensed caregiver marijuana products fail testing for heavy metals, pesticides, salmonella, or E. coli. With the policy decisions of the Bureau of Marijuana Regulation, a licensed facility is at an extreme disadvantage in the marketplace.

Going forward, an equilibrium needs to be restored.

We need to reach a place where honest and law-abiding applicants and licensees are given deference over black-market operators. This will be a big task. Many of the marijuana lobbyists have vowed to not stop and I believe them. The health of our state, the health and safety of our citizens and communities, is at stake.

The black market has exploded in Michigan in the past two years and we’re now a source state for illegal marijuana for the entire Midwest, and it’s due in large part to the policy decisions being made. One only needs to look at the activities at the Hash Bash held recently in Ann Arbor. Vendors were set up on the streets and in hotels, tables piled high with marijuana and marijuana products and being sold to anyone; no medical status or age verification required. All of it unlicensed, untested and unregulated in any way.

Getting marijuana licensing and regulation under control might seem to be an impossible task, and it certainly will be with the current policy decisions and lack of leadership from our state’s highest office holders.

Special interest groups have to be abandoned for the good of the entire state. The bureau has some outstanding employees who are fully capable of proper and thorough vetting, investigation and enforcement of the state licensing act.  Policy needs to allow them to do just that.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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