Michigan to Step Up Efforts Against Black Market Marijuana
The police and marijuana haven’t always been friends, so it’s somewhat unexpected that a former lawman is leading Michigan’s commercial marijuana industry.
But that’s what happened.
Brian Hanna, appointed Acting Director of the Cannabis Regulatory Agency (CRA) by Governor Gretchen Whitmer on September 15, tours and meets with stakeholders.
Using technology and information to fight crime has been a core part of Hanna’s career. He most recently worked as a computer crimes analyst for the Michigan State Police and previously as a criminal intelligence analyst with the agency. This isn’t his first foray into marijuana regulation. Hanna worked as an Investigations and Inspections Manager for the CRA from 2017 to March 2022.
Marijuana trade groups and industry insiders don’t think this is a coincidence. They expect more scrutiny – increased inspections, targeted data analysis and intensified inventory audits.
Michigan’s marijuana industry is regulated largely by information extracted from METRC, the statewide cannabis database software that is used by licensors and businesses, theoretically tracking marijuana from the seed for sale.
Many marijuana business leaders say they’re ready for the CRA to step up enforcement of illicit marijuana that weaves its way into an already saturated market. Black market marijuana potentially harms market integrity and security, leading to plummeting marijuana prices and fierce competition, they argue.
Several stakeholders addressed the issue at the CRA’s quarterly public meeting in September.
“One of the things we’ve been hearing recently within the company is that if you look at the amount of distillate (THC) on the legal market, there aren’t enough flowers coming from growers, from licensed growers,” said Allison Arnold of Cannabis. Michigan Lawyers. “So there must be marijuana from the illicit market that is making its way to the legal market.”
There have been no public cases illustrating black market marijuana infiltration, but most believe it is happening on some scale. They speculate that unscrupulous companies are accepting unlicensed marijuana and combining it with a legitimate product that makes it onto store shelves.
“There are a lot of people in the industry who hear anecdotally that…even licensees are doing it,” said Shelly Edgerton, chair of the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturer’s Association board of directors, “And that concerns us. a lot.”
Edgerton is a former Governor Rick Snyder-appointed director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. She was replaced when the Whitmer administration took office in 2019, but not before hiring former ARC director Andrew Brisbo and Hanna, who started with the defunct Bureau of Marijuana Regulation.
“I think Brian (Hanna) is even open to the idea of starting these anonymous conversations, in terms of ways to get information or direction or feedback from people about what might be going on and how they can best proceed. this through the app,” Edgerton said.
She said it’s a tough problem because no one in the industry wants to “be the snitch.”
Edgerton supports more opportunities for anonymous reporting by those who might otherwise face repercussions for speaking up.
Related: Poll Echoes Lobby Group’s Desire to Change Michigan Medical Marijuana Law
MLive has reviewed complaints filed by the CRA over the past few months. None explicitly involve suspected black market marijuana.
There was one case involving plants discovered by an inspector that did not have the proper tracking tags attached, raising questions about origin. Generally, METRC tags should be attached to plants until they are harvested.
Another complaint involved a retailer selling marijuana without any of the proper tracking data listed, again making it impossible to verify that it came from a legally licensed product.
Robin Schneider, director of another marijuana trade group, the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association, said CRA enforcement was already on the rise as the former director prepared to leave. She expects Hanna to continue this trend.
“By enforcement, I mean spot inspection, checking METRC tags to make sure all plants are tagged, checking camera footage to make sure all cameras are working, checking inventory to make sure all the on-site inventory is supposed to be there,” Schneider said. “I’m talking about (getting) a lot of calls from licensees that CRA is there and they’re doing inspections, lengthy inspections, surprise visits and things like that.”
Schneider said these types of actions are part of any regulated and licensed industry. “I think our members expect there to be good enforcement to make sure everyone follows the rules.”
Anton Harb Jr. is a marijuana advocate and military veteran who is not part of the industry, but is part of a consumer group that meets regularly with the CRA. He was among the first to meet Hanna after taking on the role of director.
“People weren’t happy that law enforcement was appointed to this position,” Harb said. “Being a former police officer and ex-military, I got a good vibe from the guy.
“He was a bureaucrat, of course…but he seemed open to listening.”
Harb agrees that the general industry consensus is that greater enforcement is needed.
“I just think as the market matures, the natural progression is that people are going to bend the rules and people are going to do things under the radar,” he said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily an affront to the ARC or the industry, it’s just how it goes.”
Hanna’s role as head of the ARC should be temporary. Whitmer’s office announced plans to conduct a nationwide search for a permanent director at a later date.
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