By now, you probably know all about Michigan’s marijuana shortage.
Although is it really accurate to say that there’s a shortage?
The answer is no. Because while there is a lack of supply going to provisioning centers, there’s certainly no lack of marijuana plants in the state.
In fact, the Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) estimates there’s a potential 1.14 million cannabis plants under the control of the state’s registered caregiver population.
And there’s likely more than that.
So Michigan’s Marijuana Shortage Is a Farce?
Well, that’s one way to put it.
Just two years ago, Andrew Brisbo – then of the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation – reported that there were around 93,000 medical cannabis patients. They each had a caregiver to grow on their behalf.
Today Brisbo, who now oversees the Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA), notes that the number of caregivers has risen from 43,000 to roughly 47,000. That’s an almost 10% increase.
Caregivers are permitted to grow 12 plants for their own use in addition to cultivating for designated patients. And the vast majority of caregivers are patients themselves.
So that means that the number of patients who have designated a caregiver has probably increased by a corresponding percentage and that the number of plants we mentioned above is probably higher (no pun intended).
We’re talking potentially over one and a half million plants.
Where Is the Problem Here?
It seems that through the caregiver network, Michigan has more than enough marijuana to supply both the medical market, and the recreational market once it gets going.
But things started going south back when licensing for cultivators was regulated by LARA and the ‘reefer madness’ watchdogs who were designated by the legislature to approve licenses.
Business applications were rejected left and right for no good reason and discrimination ran rampant. Fortunately, Governor Whitmer disbanded the board and replaced it with the MRA and a faster-track process for licensing both retail and production businesses.
But along with the new process came a law dictating that only heavily tested product can be peddled at provisioning centers – the cost of which makes it nearly impossible for caregivers to make any profit. Only the big grow houses can afford this.
All of this despite that fact that untested caregiver product has been safely used for eleven years.
So now the overwhelming consensus is that commercial production of cannabis won’t be enough to fill the needs of the adult use market.
The whole thing is silly really. Because while registered medical marijuana caregivers have permission to grow more than one million cannabis plants, the larger grow house commercial cultivators have a maximum limit of 108,000 plants.
And given that commercial cultivation operations in Michigan have received a total of 78 licenses from the MRA, we’re not looking at a windfall of supply.
Add to that the fact that it takes four months to even cultivate a plant, many places that weren’t licensed until this summer won’t have anything to offer.
Demand for Cannabis Will Skyrocket
Right now, all the caregivers and commercial operations licensed by the state are serving the medical cannabis market – which at almost 300,000 patients is the second largest market in the country.
Plus, it’s estimated that 1.54 million Michigan residents use cannabis each year.
But wait, there’s more. When the first recreational cannabis retail outlets open in late 2019, it’s expected that the cannabis customer base will instantly grow five times larger.
There are clearly supply chain problems. And they’re the same that have plagued other states which moved from just medical use to recreational use.
What happened in these states was that the initial demand by recreational users led to supply deficits. That, in turn, activated cultivation spikes which created market gluts. All of it equalled wild price fluctuations.
It Does Not Have to Be This Way
Michigan could step up and learn from these mistakes by stabilizing the supply chain BEFORE the recreational market is launched. Caregivers and their million plus plants could be a huge force in that stabilization.
“Caregivers ought to be formally included in the commercial system and supply chain in some reasonable manner,” said Jamie Lowell of MILegalize – and one of the authors of 2018’s Prop. 1. “It would be counterproductive to deny the experience, quality, and diversity of product that could be permanently added to the regulated marketplace.”
Then hope that MRA and lawmakers will take a serious look at Michigan’s marijuana shortage and come to their senses.