Grow limits for marijuana caregivers would be reduced under Michigan legislation –

The first shots were fired Tuesday in a long-brewing policy war surrounding the Michigan marijuana industry.

Some Michigan marijuana companies and politicians hope to drastically limit the amount of marijuana that loosely regulated medical cannabis caregivers may legally grow.

A package of bipartisan bills unveiled Tuesday, Sept. 14, would reduce the number of patients allowed per caregiver from five to one, beginning March 21, 2022.

With a 12-plant-per-patient limit, this would scale down the maximum amount a caregiver could grow at one time from 60 to 12 plants, with an additional 12 for personal use; and the current harvested marijuana limits they could keep on hand would dip from 15 ounces to five.

The proposed laws were introduced a day before supporters of marijuana caregivers plan to march at the Capitol in Lansing. For months, caregivers have been expecting this battle with large cannabis businesses that argue caregivers are responsible for the state’s enormous black market.

Marijuana pioneers argue legitimate caregivers aren’t to blame, but rather operators using the moniker to cover questionable activity.

The proposed legislation includes House bills 5300, H.B. 5301 and H.B. 5302.

One of the biggest proponents for curtailing the current caregiver system is the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association, which represents some of the industry’s largest financial interests. They released a study in June that estimated nearly 2/3 of all marijuana sales in the state, nearly $3.2 billion worth, occurred outside of the licensed market.

Chart from Anderson Economic Group that shows analysis of Michigan marijuana sales in 2020, including the portions that are sold outside the licensed market.

Supporters of greater caregiver restrictions also argue they shouldn’t be able to sell untested product.

The proposed legislation also creates a new license type, a “specialty medical grower,” that would operate in line with the licensed market. Specialty medical growers would be required to pay $500 applications fees and have their marijuana undergo safety compliance testing.

“Michigan’s unregulated cannabis market poses an immediate threat to the health of all Michiganders, and the Michigan Cannabis Safety Act updates outdated laws to help ensure all Michiganders have access to tested, tracked and labeled cannabis products,” Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association Board Chair Shelly Edgerton said. “We look forward to working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to bring Michigan’s unregulated, unlicensed cannabis market in line with the rest of the cannabis industry to help ensure safe, high-quality cannabis is available for all Michiganders.”

Edgerton, between 2016 and 2019, previously worked as the director of Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees the state Marijuana Regulatory Agency.

During Edgerton’s tenure, the state Marijuana Regulatory Agency had in place exceptions that encouraged caregivers to sell their excess marijuana and other products to the burgeoning and undersupplied licensed market as it was ramping up. Caregivers were completely phased out of the licensed market by September 2020.

Because the caregiver classification was created by a 2008, voter-passed ballot initiative, changes to the current system would require a 75% super-majority vote.

“We have a huge supply of cannabis that’s not in the licensed marketplace,” Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association Director Steve Linder told MLive when rumors of forthcoming proposals to change to the caregiver system emerged in July. “And it’s not tested. We don’t know where it’s grown, we don’t know who’s growing it. People are not employing, they’re not investing in infrastructure, they’re not paying taxes. So, we have to get at the unregulated supply and that law needs to be passed. And we’re going to lead the charge.”

Caregiver supporters argue the black market issues are not due to law-abiding caregivers,.

“There is no good reason to create any further restriction or burdens on the current caregiver system,” said Jamie Lowell, a legalization pioneer and the director of social responsibility and advocacy at the Botanical Company, a marijuana retailer based in Lansing. “There is no health or other issues warranting any prohibitive changes to caregivers.

“ … None of these amendments were a result of a reasonable process that sought input from important stakeholders. It seems as if it is common knowledge in Lansing that Steve Linder and the (Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association) are behind this.

“If so, it would make sense and be consistent with their known intention to hurt the caregiver system. I believe, out of the ignorant assumption that it will benefit them.”

Linder previously worked as a Republican lobbyist in Lansing before being named director of the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association.

“There should be no changes to the current caregiver plant allowance, regardless of the addition of the specialty grower license type,” said Rick Thompson, a caregiver supporter and director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Michigan chapter.

Thompson called the proposed legislation a “smoke-and-mirrors game” with the intent of reducing the number of caregivers while hiding behind claims of improved consumer safety.

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