July was a good month for cannabis policy reformers in Michigan who saw a flurry of positive administrative and legislative proposals.
Let’s jump right into the long-awaited rules that will govern the state’s recreational marijuana market. While many were relaxing over an extended Independence Day break, the Whitmer administration published emergency rules on July 3 spelling out the licensing process for on-site consumption and at special events, as well as eliminating capitalization requirements for businesses. Overall, it will be cheaper for recreational businesses to get licensed compared to medical.
Additionally, medical marijuana provisioning centers will be able to sell recreational product at the same site, and anyone older than 21 can have it home-delivered. Buying recreational cannabis in storefronts is still off-limits, but the state will start accepting business applications on Nov. 1, with sales expected to start in the first quarter of 2020.
Officials announced a series of other rules to help start the recreational market, and overall, the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association called the rules “well thought out and forward-thinking.”
Two weeks later, the state Marijuana Regulatory Agency announced a social equity program that will help residents in 19 communities more easily access the recreational market. The cities — which include Benton Harbor, Kalamazoo, Muskegon and Muskegon Heights — were chosen based on populations with income below the federal poverty level and in counties with high rates of marijuana convictions. Residents in these areas will get up to a 60 percent discount on licensure fees, educational sessions on the industry and help with applications. Consider it an attempt to make good on past injustices in communities disproportionately affected by the failed War on Drugs.
Sticking with criminal justice reforms, longtime cannabis-supporting state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, has proposed a bill to clear criminal convictions of those charged with crimes that would now be legal in Michigan. Known as expungement, Irwin says the bill would benefit more than 235,000 Michigan residents. It’s also been a major policy priority for reformers who backed the legalization initiative.
Meanwhile, Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting has dropped 275 pending misdemeanor cases involving cannabis since the statewide initiative passed in November. With more work to go, you can’t help but feel a sense of momentum for justice in Michigan after decades of failed policy.
For more on the history of Michigan’s 10-year foray into marijuana legalization, our friends at sister publication MiBiz published the first in a series of stories taking a deep dive into the subject. Reporters Sydney Smith and Jessica Young take a look at the rocky history of setting up a business framework, while local officials in Muskegon and Holland explain why those communities have taken divergent approaches to allowing businesses. (Hint: Holland is sticking with a ‘just say no’ policy.) They say they’re respecting the will of voters, but Muskegon Planning Director Mike Franzak says it has the added benefit of rehabilitating dilapidated properties.
There’s a similar sentiment in Benton Harbor, where a medical marijuana facility broke ground in late July at a former aluminum smelting facility. The company, NoBo Michigan, anticipates 65 new jobs while adding the property back to the tax rolls.
One community’s sin is another’s opportunity, I suppose.
— Compiled by Andy Balaskovitz