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Michigan approves medical marijuana testing labs

As soon as testing facilities get their licenses, they'll be able to begin testing marijuana and marijuana-infused products that will be sold in dispensaries.

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Board approved licenses for two testing facilities on Thursday, putting the last piece into the puzzle that will unlock the medical pot market in the state.

The board approved a total of seven licenses last month, but none of them were for testing facilities, a necessary element for medical pot to make it from growers to processors and dispensaries.

On Thursday, licenses were awarded for two testing facilities — Iron Laboratories in Walled Lake and Precision Safety Innovation Laboratories in Ann Arbor. Seven other licenses also were awarded, including for six dispensaries — four in Detroit, one in Jackson and one in Burton — and a processing facility that is attached to a Chesaning business that got four large grow licenses last month.

As soon as the testing facilities get their actual licenses, they’ll be able to begin testing marijuana and marijuana-infused products that will be sold in dispensaries.

“This means we have a complete system now, so the licensees can actually begin operating,” said Andrew Brisbo, director of the state’s Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation.

Ben Rosman, CEO of PSI Laboratories, said his company has been testing marijuana products for caregivers for three years and is looking forward to jumping into the regulated market.

"Michigan has the second-biggest medical marijuana patient population in the country," he said. "Once it really starts to kick off, it's going to be huge."

A license for the Brightmoore Gardens dispensary in Detroit was denied because one of the owners had several large commercial properties that he was renting to caregivers who were growing medical marijuana.

The Brightmoore dispensary has been operating under emergency rules established by the state and with the consent of the City of Detroit. But now that his license has been denied, on a 3-2 vote, the business will have to close up shop.

“These are feeding the black market that we’re trying so hard to get away from,” said retired Michigan State Police officer Don Bailey, one of the board members who frequently votes against approving licenses. “I don’t think this is someone who has the integrity for a license.”

Board member Vivian Pickard said she was frustrated that board members were assuming things — like what was happening with commercial rental properties — that weren't reflected in the documents they were considering. She also objected when Bailey urged the board to vote against licenses for three Detroit dispensaries that were submitted by an 84-year-old man.

“Now at the age of 84, he’s going to come out of retirement and operate at least three businesses,” Bailey said. “That just doesn’t seem genuine to me.”

But Pickard said, “I would suggest we not assume what’s happening here and not discriminate against someone based on age as well. I don’t think we can legally do that.”

The licenses for the three dispensaries were approved on a 4-1 vote.

The board also considered 23 applications for preliminary approval, passing four large grow operations, four processors, five dispensaries and denying approval for one small and three large grow operations, three dispensaries and two processors.

Seven of the nine people who have been denied licenses or preliminary approval in recent months have appealed the board’s decisions and those hearings are expected to begin next week.

People attending the meeting expressed frustration at the pace of awarding licenses, especially since a Sept. 15 deadline looms for about 230 dispensaries around the state that are operating under emergency rules. If they haven’t gotten their license from the state by Sept. 15, they have to shut down until they get one.

“What’s really lost are the patients and families affected by a shutdown,” said Rick Thompson, a board member of the Michigan chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

“I want that shutdown to stop for compassionate reasons and for logical reasons,” he said, noting that he’d also try appeal to the board’s partisan political leanings.

Three of the five board members were appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and the remaining two were recommendations from Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt, and Senate Majority Leader Arlen Meekhof, R-West Olive. Thompson said that if medical marijuana becomes scarce with a Sept. 15 shutdown, more people will come out to the polls to vote on legalizing marijuana on Nov. 6. And increased turnout could help elect more Democrats who could then have an impact on who gets appointed to the board.

“There are only two months before the November election,” Thompson said. “And if you damage voters, they’re all going to show up at the polls.”

Andrew Brisbo, director of the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, said the department will not extend the Sept. 15 deadline.

“Now that we have licenses in the system, there is still access” to medical marijuana, Brisbo said. “Two thirds of the registered patients in Michigan live in a county within 30 miles of a licensed provisioning center.”

In addition, the medical marijuana model approved by voters in 2008 calls for licensed caregivers being able to grow up to 72 plants for themselves and five additional patients. That model still exists for the 289,205 people who have medical marijuana cards.

More licenses and preliminary approvals will be considered at the board’s next meeting on Sept. 10.

If you have a question about marijuana in Michigan, send an email to pot.michigan@freepress.com

Kathleen Gray covers the marijuana business. Contact her at: 313-223-4430, kgray99@freepress.com or on Twitter @michpoligal.