LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan lawmakers are intervening in a long-running legal dispute over unlicensed medical marijuana shops, pushing to enact a firm deadline by which the businesses must close or risk their ability to get a license.
The House voted 102-4 Thursday in favor of legislation that would prevent unlicensed facilities that stay open after June 1 from becoming licensed for a year. The move comes after a judge last month issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of a March 31 deadline that had been set by state regulators who are more tightly regulating the medical marijuana industry under a 2016 law.
"We have unlicensed operators operating in the state. It became clear to me that potentially some statute was needed," said the bill sponsor, Republican Rep. Jim Lilly of Ottawa County's Park Township. "I think what this does it is really clarifies that there's a point in time at which we have to move from an unregulated market to a regulated market, from unlicensed operators to licensed operators."
The legislation was sent to the Senate for consideration next.
The House voted the same day that Court of Claims Judge Stephen Borrello heard arguments in several consolidated lawsuits against the state. He is expected to rule soon.
Some suits were filed by temporary operators wanting to stay open after alleging their license applications were denied for invalid reasons. Others were brought by licensed businesses saying they cannot compete against unlicensed facilities that do not have to play by the same rules.
"The time has come for the state of Michigan to finally shut down all unlicensed facilities. Each day these unlicensed provisioning centers remain open, patients are consuming both untested and dangerous products," the Great Lakes Cannabis Chamber of Commerce said in a statement.
Licensing deadlines have been extended numerous times over the last year due to court action and other reasons, including regulators needing more time to thoroughly evaluate potential licensees and concerns about a shortage of marijuana for patients.
In March, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer eliminated the marijuana licensing board and folded its functions into a newly created agency, citing "inefficiencies."