Local attorneys to help state guide medical marijuana industry as business interest grows

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(l) - Bob Hendricks of Wrigley, Hoffman and Hendricks is shown addressing the NALS legal professionals in February 2016. (r) - Roberta King, now of Canna Communication, is an author as well as a seasoned communications professional.

LEGAL NEWS PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Bob Hendricks and Ben Wrigley of Wrigley, Hoffman and Hendricks have been chosen to serve on two of the work groups of the Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation (BMMR), lending their legal expertise as Michigan strives to make its marijuana regulation clear and fair.

The Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act of 2016, which addresses some deficiencies in the original Medical Marihuana Act that resulted from the 2008 ballot initiative, sets up five groups of actors to be regulated in the medical marijuana industry: Growers, Processors, Secure Transporters, Provisioning Centers, and Safety Compliance (testing labs). The five current work groups are categorized the same way.

Wrigley will serve on the Secure Transporter group and Hendricks on the Provisioning Center group.

Being chosen for these work groups is no small feat. The two attorneys, who also have the Cannalex Lawyers and Counselors firm with their partner Tom Hoffman, competed with 743 other applicants. Between all five work groups, only about 95 individuals made the cut.

In addition, Hendricks is succeeding to the presidency of the State Bar of Michigan (SBM) Marijuana Law Section next year. The current president, who took office at the section’s annual meeting held at the SBM NEXT Conference at the end of September, is Mary Chartier-Mittendorf of Chartier & Nyamfukudza in East Lansing, with whom Hendricks sometimes co-presents on marijuana business law.

“I?was always member of the corporate section,” says Hendricks, who was formerly counsel for Universal Products. “But it’s been interesting and it’s been fun working with the State Bar. I have been very pleased to become more active, and I’m really proud of our bar association for its support of the section. I believe we’re still the only bar association in the nation that has a marijuana law section.”

As the interest in all things marijuana grows, at least in part because there is a petition drive underway to put full legalization on the ballot, there is an immediate and pressing problem with the regulatory process.

According to guidance from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), provisioning centers, often called dispensaries, must cease operations in order to be considered for licensing as of Dec. 15.

As Hendricks explains it, “The board [BMMR] said, well, we want you all to know that if you’re going to come before us and apply for a license as a provisioning center, you can’t be engaging in an illegal activity.”

The original Medical Marihuana Act had only two categories, caregiver and patient, with no mention of dispensaries. Disputes about the legality of such dispensaries made it to the Michigan Supreme Court in 2012, and in its 2013 opinion in State of Michigan v. McQueen, the court ruled that they were indeed not legal under the current law. The Facilities Licensing Act made provisioning centers legal, but set up the rules for licensing to preclude their operation prior to being officially licensed.

“LARA has said we’ll start accepting applications on December 15,” Hendricks says, “and it will probably take at least three and a half months to issue the first license, so we’re looking at the end of March. Then there are kind of chicken-and-egg issues: if a secure transporter is the only authorized way to move the marijuana, you have to get them licensed, and if it can’t be sold without undergoing safety testing, the labs have to be licensed too. And the growers... so that’s all kind of percolating around.”

Rep. Yousef Rabhi, also concerned about the negative repercussions on patients who rely on their marijuana medication, has introduced a bill to allow the dispensaries to remain open during the application process. The bill has garnered wide support, including from local representatives David LaGrand and Tommy Brann.

Sen. David Knezek plans to introduce a similar bill in the Senate.

A variety of patients have testified to the devastating effects such a delay might have on them. From people who use it as a safer alternative to opiate-based painkillers to those with severe epilepsy whose lives have been virtually saved by the drug, patient stories are changing the minds of lawmakers as well as the general public.

“Some of the patients describe so movingly why they’re worried about not being able to get medicine that’s helped them or their children or their loved ones,” Hendricks says. “You can watch the [BMMR] board members listen to and absorb these patient accounts, and there appears to real awareness and sympathy for their legitimate concerns.” Hendricks, however, says he is not necessarily confident the delay will be avoided if legislation is not enacted.

All the uncertainty has not been a deterrent to an increasing number of  business designed to advise potential marijuana entrepreneurs.

Canna Communication, one of the newest, is intended to help those entrepreneurs with business promotion.

Roberta King, well-known locally because of her years as Vice-President of PR and Marketing at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, was already considering starting her own public relations business when she had an epiphany in late 2016 while listening to National Public Radio.

“I heard a story from a trade show about cannabis in Nevada,” King says, “and my mind was made up pretty quickly. I bought the web domain cannacommunication and started immersing myself in the subject.” Since that was shortly after the passage of the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act, her learning curve was steep, but the part-time author (He Plays a Harp) loves research and study.

She partnered with Dottie Rhodes, another well-known local in the design field, to start Canna Communication.

King, who obtained a medical marijuana card to help with pain caused by running, is particularly excited about. “What’s really going to be a good thing for the industry as the state regulates it is that these edibles and other products are all going to be lab-tested. I think that’s really super exciting, and good for patients,” she says.

Hendricks, who met with Rhodes and King in September, comments, “They bring a very rich background in marketing and communication to this. They also bring a certain professionalism, along with a lot of others now entering the scene, which in turn brings credibility.”

 

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