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Medical Marijuana dispensaries could stay open while applying for licenses under bills


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LANSING, MI - A group of Michigan lawmakers are pushing for existing medical marijuana dispensaries to be able to remain open while they are applying for licenses, contrary to guidance previously issued by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.  

Under a law passed in 2016, the department and the Medical Marihuana Licensing Board are working together to license marijuana dispensaries, which are currently operating in a legal grey area. At first, the board considered asking all medical marijuana dispensaries to shut down in short order if they wanted to be considered for licenses.  

Later, the Department said it would request existing dispensaries cease operation by Dec. 15, or it would be a possible impediment to getting licensed. 

Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, and Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, are introducing legislation that would instead let dispensaries keep operating while their applications for licenses are pending before the board.  

"We can't go back in time. Here in Michigan, we have something very important: safe access. And while the legislation that was passed in 2016 changes the landscape, we can't let this intermediary period disrupt what we've built here in the state," Rabhi said.  

His bill, House Bill 5014, defines an already-operating dispensary that applies for a license before Feb. 18, 2018, as a "licensee" until the board makes a decision on the dispensary's application, essentially giving the operation legal cover to continue operating while its application is pending.  

Knezek plans to introduce a similar version in the Senate.  

But the lawmakers say it's important to protect patients, who joined them at a press conference on Wednesday.  

Medical marijuana patient Justin Nichols is an Army veteran uses the medicine for injuries he got in the Army. 

"About two years ago I found myself in avery dark place. I went to the VA and was given just a slew of prescription drugs," he said. 

Through talking with another veteran he learned about the value of treating with cannabis, instead. Today he's healthy and running his own business. 

Carla Boyd is on the board of the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan. Her 15-year-old daughter has a form of epilepsy that wasn't being controlled by regular medications, and uses oil extracted by marijuana to control her seizures. Continued access to medicine for epilepsy patients, she said, is important.  

"It is critical to ensure practical transition for existing patients who rely on this therapy right now," Boyd said.  

Knezek and Rabhi said the bills have bipartisan support in both chambers.  

Rep. Tommy Brann, R-Wyoming, who supports the bills, said his brother has MS and is a medical marijuana patient. Brann owns a bar, and said in regulatory areas like liquor control places can open up with temporary permits until their permanent ones are in place.  

"But this is life and death. So they should have the same rights if not more rights to stay open," Brann said.  

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