Students, local businesses discuss impact of recreational marijuana legalization
After the legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana in 2018 and the first day of sales last month, both students and the Ann Arbor community have demonstrated high demand for cannabis products.
On the first day of sales post-legalization, many businesses experienced mass interest and ran out of various products. Many stores reported long lines prior to opening, with some customers coming from out-of-state. In Ann Arbor, stores with licenses include Om of Medicine, Bloom City Club, Exclusive Brands, Greenstone Provisions, Ann Arbor Healing LLC, Arbors Wellness and Skymint.
Mark Passerini, co-founder of Om of Medicine, discussed how legalization has impacted his store, both in the first days of sales and more recently.
“We were slammed for the first few days,” Passerini said. “That was until we started running out of product. We are still seeing hundreds of people a day, but our supply is very limited.”
According to the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), there were $1.63 million of recreational marijuana sales throughout Michigan in the first week, generating more than a quarter of a million dollars of tax revenue. This revenue is drawn both from sales and excise taxes. The first $20 million of tax revenue collected will be spent on medical marijuana research while the remainder will be distributed to various cities and counties to use for public schools, roads and infrastructure.
Ann Arbor has had the most businesses with approved licenses of any Michigan city. It is also home to Hash Bash, an annual festival celebrating marijuana, which had one of its most attended events last spring.
David Harns, spokesman of Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA), said they are continuing to grant licenses.. Many businesses do not yet have licenses but have passed prequalification, including a background check and paying a $6,000 non-refundable application fee.
“We are approving businesses on a rolling basis,” Harns said. “As people are turning in their licenses, we are getting them through the process. We have prequalified 100 business already and given out licenses to about 54 to 57 right now.”
This change follows the approval of Michigan Proposal 1, a ballot initiative that legalized the recreational use and possession of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. The proposal passed with up to 57 percent of the vote in December 2018. The initiative allowed one year for LARA to begin accepting applications.
Kinesiology senior Laurence Horowitz is the president of Green Wolverine, an organization dedicated to providing education and networking opportunities to students interested in the cannabis business.
According to Horowitz, the University has been more open to their work since the approval of Proposal 1.
“They are definitely more interested in our activities now that donors are interested in getting involved and in contributing to the University, as opposed to when we were first getting off the ground and they didn’t really treat us with any respect,” Horowitz said.
However, Horowitz said his organization still faces challenges in establishing marijuana’s legitimacy.
“Getting people to move past the stigma of cannabis use, that’s probably our biggest problem,” Horowitz said. “Convincing people this is a real thing and not just some drug, that is really our main difficulty.”
Passerini echoed Horowitz’s comments, adding that the legalization of recreational marijuana was an achievement for the state of Michigan.
“This is a huge step in making our free country even more free,” Passerini said. “We are now free to consume a plant that is objectively one of the most non-toxic substances known to man.”
According to the new law, a person will now be legally allowed to have up to 2.5 ounces on them at a time. A person can keep up to 10 ounces in their house if the extra product is locked or secured. The MRA also announced businesses are currently allowed to transfer 50 percent of medical marijuana product to be sold for recreational use.
In an interview with The Daily, Harns discussed the decision to allow the transfer of product previously marketed as medical to be sold recreationally.
“If they have a license on both sides of the industry, at that point you can only transfer 50 percent of the product if it has been on your shelves for at least 30 days,” Harns said. “We wanted to make sure that businesses that had products that were languishing on the shelves could move those over and sell them in the adult-use market to help supply the demand that was there and also to move out the product that they have.”
Passerini said Om of Medicine’s primary focus will be on supplying marijuana to clients using it for medical reasons. In order to increase the supply for recreational users, he said the state needs to provide more licenses.
“Our focus is on our medical patients that we have been serving for the past 10 years,” Passerini said. “We will not risk running out of medical product to serve the recreational market. We need the state to license more cultivators and processors so that supply can catch up with demand.”
Harns also commented on the state’s desire to ensure consumers are using safe products from stores licensed to sell recreational marijuana.
“We want to make sure we start moving people away from the black market,” Harns said. “We want to move them into a regulated market where they can consume products that have been safety tested through state tests.”
In addition to retailers, LARA is also approving licenses for growers, transporters, event organizers, safety compliance facilities and processors. Before receiving a license, businesses must pass both prequalification and licensing.
If a business passes prequalification, they are then vetted by the Marijuana Regulatory Agency. If an applicant passes this step — there are 17 distinct reasons why an application may be denied — they must pay an additional fee for each license.