Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency Director Andrew Brisbo, during a March 24, 2021 online public meeting. Credit: Grown In

In a quarterly check-in with Grown In, Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency Director Andrew Brisbo says he’s working on rules to allow curbside and maybe drive through service on a permanent basis, and that for this legislative session, merging the states separate medial and adult-use systems, is likely off the table.

[Interview is edited for clarity and grammar.]

Grown In: A significant number of patients and customers have moved to curbside service as a result of the pandemic, and some provisioning centers that I’ve visited say they are now able to serve many more patients as a result. Now that masks are coming off in the state, what is the likelihood that Michigan will allow provisioning centers and retail stores to retain curbside service?

Andrew Brisbo: Well, we hadn’t stopped them from doing it so far. [We have] endorsed that as it’s not a violation of the rules. But we also intend in the round of rules that is in draft form although not quite published yet. That would be more specific and clear about curbside service – and I guess what we’re calling – it’s not specific to curbside. So, when you see the draft rules, you won’t see anything about curbside service. But we do talk about sales transactions occurring outside of the four walls of provisioning centers and retailers and what standards need to be adhered to for that to occur. But we want to continue to support that approach. 

Grown In: So would that potentially include drive-thru? 

Brisbo: Yes. 

Grown In: And when you talk about the rules, you’re talking about the ones that you’re planning on issuing in September. Is that right? 

Brisbo: Correct. That’s the tentative time frame. Now, those drafts are working through the legal process before they’ll be published and then we’ll open for public comment.

Grown In: What is the status of efforts to merge the medical and adult-use regulatory regimes? Are you in talks with stakeholders at all, or has that been dropped for this legislative session?

Brisbo: We have been working on it this last legislative session. We have not picked it up this legislative session yet, we’ve been working on a couple of other priorities. That’s still something that I think we’ll see the industry itself is going to move toward consolidation. For the most part, our administrative approach with the rules and with our policies and procedures recognizes the similarity between the medical and adult-use commercial operators. 

So, I think it’s going in that direction one way or another. The question is just really are we proactive in working with the legislature to adopt policy in anticipation of that or just reacting to what’s happening out there. 

I think we’ll move in that direction one way or another as time goes on.

Grown In: One of the concerns that was raised recently is that caregiver advocates are worried that opening up the legislation, opening up the laws, for some sort of legislative action, risks that there could be changes to caregiver rules. Do you have anything to say about the state’s intentions with caregivers?

Brisbo:Well, the approach to consolidate the commercial market wouldn’t open the act that governs caregiver operations. Those are in the 2008 act. So, what we were working on last session and related to merging the Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act and the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. 

Grown In: In your quarterly report last week, you mentioned that you’re seeking to provide a pathway for Tribal Nations to be involved in the regulated market. Can you explain what a pathway means to you?

Brisbo: The laws right now are very restrictive. So, if we look at the used market, for example, licensees, growers, processors, retailers, safety compliance facilities, and secure transporters. It’s a closed market? They can only do business with each other. 

So, the only pathway that we can support currently is for licensed operations to be on tribal lands. But many Tribal Nations have expressed an interest to operate their own facilities. Their own establishments and to be able to do business with the commercial market. So that’s the pathway we’re trying to explore and open via a statutory change.

Grown In: The online version of your quarterly reports really seem to have strong attendance. You said you’re thinking of going back to in person reports next quarter. Do you think you’re going to keep it online in some way?

Brisbo: Yeah, we tend to support both. Assuming we can make the technology work. My team has been working on that. I do like the opportunity to provide direct access and do things in person throughout the state as we did before. But we’ve also recognized that having the Zoom option provides better access for people throughout the state. Even before we would broadcast them on Facebook Live but the Zoom operation is more…it’s widely understood how people are using it now and it provides for interactive access. 

Grown In: You reported 1,728 adult use licenses processed this last fiscal year. That’s a big number. But only forty of them went to social equity applicants. So that’s about 2%. Why do you think that number is so low?

Brisbo: I think those are two different numbers you’re looking at there. Let me pull that up real quick. So, we received 1,728 applications. That’s pre-qualification licenses, applications and renewals as well. If we look at active licenses, we have a total of 706, forty of which are social equity applicants. 

Grown In: So, 706 active. 40 social equity. Even so, that’s a small number. 

Brisbo: Yeah. Five, six percent. It is low, and I think the majority of that is due to a couple of factors. 

First and foremost, when the market was open and we started accepting applications, the majority of businesses that were able to jump right in were those that were licensed under the Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act, and that act didn’t have any provisions to support equity principles. So, a lot of the businesses that got in there with the high barriers of entry and high costs of running a business were not very representative of what we would consider an equitable marketplace. 

Additionally. as was found out by some of the work we did with our Racial Equity Advisory Workgroup and is sort of widely known as well: It is an expensive business to get into. We offer opportunities through our social equity program for discounts, but access to capital is still a barrier to entry. And then we still only have a vast minority of the municipalities across the state participating. So, 101 municipalities in Michigan, have authorizing ordinances under the Adult Use Act. And obviously that leaves, you know, over 1,600 that do not participate, with some notable ones within that group that I think, will potentially provide pathways for equity participants in the future.

Grown In: Speaking of that, what’s the status of the Social Equity Workgroup proposals? When we talked in March, you said some of those rules and regulations would be implemented “soon”. Three months on, what’s being implemented?

Brisbo: We’re actually going to put out a report at the 6-month mark. So sometime next month, that will detail the progress on those. A couple of them we’ve already implemented. A couple were recommendations. We’ve updated what we do with the Social Equity program, that was the recommended so-called social equity presentation tour. That’s already been done. We’ve done some surveys in support of the ownership pathways that were recommended to figure out how best to move ahead with those. We’re also working on a few of the others like, the municipal education piece where we’re working on a publication of a webinar that’s going to live on our website that will provide some resources for local officials. A license type proposal is involved in a rule set that will be coming out soon.

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Editor Mike is an itinerate reporter, recovering political consultant, and strategy game devotee.