Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency Director Andrew Brisbo told an agency advisory committee in a virtual meeting Friday that his agency will not press for the Michigan Legislature to take up a bill to streamline state cannabis licenses in December’s lame duck session, multiple sources have told Grown In. Last week multiple lobbyists and interest groups confirmed to Grown In that the MRA is workshopping draft legislation and considering other changes to the enacting law.
Streamlining medical and adult use licenses into a single license type would require changes to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act. Because that law passed through a voter referendum in 2008, changes would require a three-quarters super majority in both chambers of the legislature to become law. This hurdle, say Lansing lobbyists, would make it difficult for legislative leaders to bring a cannabis bill under consideration during December’s lame duck session when the state has other more pressing Covid-related public health and budget matters to hash out.
“At this point it is my understanding that the bill is not going to be introduced this year,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association (MCIA). “We’re looking forward to continuing work on it in the next session.”
Michigan’s new legislative session typically begins by mid-January.
Few cannabis advocates will miss the opportunity to hang their ideas on a moving bill, each putting their two cents in, transforming a straightforward streamlining bill into more of a Michigan cannabis industry revisioning. Each advocate is pushing their own idea of how the state could encourage municipalities to allow cannabis within their boundaries, how Michigan should promote the creation of more cannabis businesses owned by people of color, and what exactly license streamlining should look like.
While much of industry broadly supports streamlining, MCIA has not yet determined what aspects it will support, says Schneider, who has provided “mostly technical solutions” to the state for consideration, and that her organization’s advocacy will be deliberate.
“When you have an organization with 260 members, with something as important as this, we do our due diligence to take the temperature of our members,” said Schneider.
Steve Linder, who heads up the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers’ Association, which represents the largest of the state’s cultivators, does not equivocate. “The people at the top of the food chain need consistency and certainty. This is a good thing to merge these bills.”
Linder’s organization also seeks a written codification of social equity, similar to the Detroit definition established in 2019, as well as, “the guardrails that have been passed by [MRA] bulletin enshrined in statute on microgrows,” said Linder.
Microbusiness licenses, which allow holders to maintain up to 150 plants, to manufacture cannabis products, and sell the results on premises, have had few applicants to date. But as the cannabis industry grows and the attractiveness of opening a craft brewer-like business increases, Linder is concerned cannabis microbusinesses could become managed like franchisees.
Eric Foster, a lobbyist who has assisted numerous municipalities with writing cannabis ordinances, says current streamlining language will put many towns into a jam.
“As it stands right now, there is the prospect that it will require communities that have already opted in to accept the combination of [medical and adult-use],” says Foster. “You have a lot of communities, 235 that have opted in for one or the other, and the majority are still medical-only communities. For those communities, most have not taken any steps to opt-in recreational.”
Many conservative communities, says Foster, allowed cannabis businesses in their communities because they were convinced that there were real medical use cases. But forcing those communities to accept adult-use along with medical licenses will inevitably lead to some municipalities to simply choose to get rid of all existing cannabis licenses. This could set off a chain of events since only about 20% of Michigan municipalities have approved cannabis businesses.
“There’s only a narrow area of land that allows for [cannabis] zoning. If you lose 100-plus cities, now you have to go to the few places remaining that may not have space. Jobs are going to be lost,” said Foster.
While Republicans control majorities in the Michigan Senate, 22-16, and the House, 58-52, the fact that passage of license streamlining will require a three-fourths supermajority means legislative Democrats will have a hand in crafting legislation.
“Members of the Black Caucus and other minority legislators would like to see more things like social equity programming and give back incentives for licensing,” says Foster.
One innovative concept, proposed by cannabis insurance agent Cimone Casson, who is African-American and a member of the MRA’s racial equity workgroup, would be for MRA to support the creation of an investment market for cannabis businesses in the state. Casson’s concept would build on Michigan law that allows the sale of Michigan-based company securities to Michigan residents without a broker-dealer.
“This is a way for individuals in the community be able to invest in businesses that would probably have a pain point of raising money in a traditional way,” said Casson, who says the biggest barrier for people of color is finding wealthy investors to provide startup capital. Her concept would allow many individuals to purchase smaller equity stakes in Michigan cannabis businesses.
Chris Jackson, one of Michigan’s few minority cannabis license holders, is an operating partner of the Sticky provisioning centers in Ypsilanti and Detroit. He lists a lengthy cannabis social equity wish list, including social equity standards for municipalities to apply to their enacting ordinances, promoting microbusiness licenses, and creating a certification program, “similar to Illinois. Make every licensee and employee do continuous education that level-sets the market, so everyone will know what they should be paid with a consistent market rate and up to date with the information they provide,” said Jackson.
Jackson, who is also a member of MRA’s Racial Equity workgroup, says the seventh draft reported by Grown In is the latest version he’s seen. Lobbyists from other organizations confirmed as of Friday that one was the latest version to be circulated by MRA.
“The draft has made a lot of progress in my opinion, but there’s still more work to be done,” said Robin Schneider.