Bill would keep Rx pot shops open before licenses

In this Sept. 15, 2015 file photo, marijuana plants with their buds covered in white crystals called trichomes, are nearly ready for harvest in the "Flower Room" at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

GRAND RAPIDS. Mich. (WOOD) — Several Michigan lawmakers are backing a bill designed to keep medical marijuana dispensaries open and exempt from criminal prosecution while they apply for licenses through the state.

For state Rep. Tommy Brann, R-Wyoming, fighting for House Bill 5014 is personal.

“My brother has MS (multiple sclerosis) and medical marijuana helps him get through this,” Brann explained.

Prescription pot has been legal in Michigan for nearly 10 years. Patients who have medical marijuana cards — like Brann’s brother, Johnny — are prescribed the drug and it’s administered by a certified caregiver.

But dispensaries, attorney Bruce Block noted, are not legal.

“All of the ones that are out there are not authorized by the Medical Marihuana Act,” Block said.

And yet they exist. Some have been shut down, but authorities haven’t gone after others.

“Every dispensary out there is operating in a gray area, and local prosecutors and police are just simply allowing them to exist,” Block said.

Under new regulations, dispensaries can start applying for licenses on Dec. 15 and they would be issued early next year. But what about the shops that are already operating and aren’t getting the boot from law enforcement? Block says they’re in legal limbo.

That issue is at the crux of HB 5014.

“We can’t just dock it just because there’s a transfer of license or waiting for transfers. We’ve got to think about the patients,” Brann said.

Brann said the bill would allow dispensaries that already exist to stay open during the application process instead of shutting down until they get the state approval. That, he said, would mean patients like his brother wouldn’t have to go without the drug.

“It takes all the stress off him, but it helps him with his appetite, but it helps him with the pain he’s going through. That’s the main thing it does,” Brann said.

The bill, which has bipartisan backing, was introduced Tuesday. Brann said it now needs to drum up enough support to get a committee hearing.

Under the new medical marijuana laws, municipalities can decide whether they want dispensaries, but some are waiting to lay out rules until the state provides more guidance.