High Time: Michigan Begins Recreational Marijuana Sales 13 Months After Vote

December 2, 2019by Breana Noble
The state of Michigan forecasts the recreational marijuana sales will total hundreds of millions of dollars in the first year. (Dreamstime/TNS)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan’s first legal recreational sales began around 10 a.m. Sunday, 13 months after voters approved a ballot measure allowing it.

Consumers from across Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania lined up outside provisioning centers to kick off what is expected to be one of the largest adult-use markets in the Midwest. The state of Michigan forecasts the sales will total hundreds of millions of dollars in the first year, though access will be limited at first.

Kelly Savage, 25, of Columbus, Ohio, was the first to purchase recreational marijuana from Exclusive Brands LLC’s shop in Ann Arbor. He arrived before the store closed Saturday to be the first in line.

“I wanted to be a part of history,” Savage, a landscaper, said before exchanging $480 in cash for an ounce of Platinum OG, a flower with a high content of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive element in marijuana known as THC. “It was worth it, even if it was just a half an ounce, it was worth it.”

Savage has Type 1 diabetes. He takes insulin as a correction, but the effects are not felt immediately: Marijuana “helps a lot,” he said.

Although the law Michigan voters passed in November 2018 legalized recreational marijuana for people over the age of 21, the state had a year to set up a system before it had to begin accepting business licenses on Dec. 6. It was early: The state issued its first recreational license to Exclusive on Nov. 15.

“I am proud of the hard work our team put in to implement the will of the voters, ahead of deadline,” Andrew Brisbo, executive director of the Marijuana Regulatory Agency, said in a statement.

More than 200 people lined up outside Exclusive ahead of 10 a.m., when retailers could begin transferring some of their medical inventory for recreational sale in the state’s marijuana tracking system.

Consumers likened the historic occasion to the Berlin Wall falling and said it was one step forward to legalizing marijuana nationally.

“I feel broke,” said Gregg Etzel, 67, of Ann Arbor, who arrived at 5 a.m. to purchase $280 of flower and wax, which he expects will last him at least a month. The cost, however, is worth it. “It got me off opioids. The withdrawal was awful. The doctors did that to me. With marijuana, there is no withdrawal.”

Etzel let his medical card expire on Nov. 1 to come Sunday “to be a part of history.”

But recreational marijuana is more expensive than medical marijuana. In addition to Michigan’s 6% sales tax, there is a 10% excise tax. The tax, however, is one of the lowest in the country. Some retailers also charge more for recreational marijuana.

Many in line Sunday said they had been using marijuana since they were teenagers. Many were glad to be able to make their purchases above board.

“I don’t have to go find someone on the street and worry where it’s from,” said Annie Marta, 29, of Detroit, who works in the medical field. “I’m making connections with knowledgeable people and not connections with people maybe I don’t want to be connected with.”

Added Rich Oliver, 31, of Grand Rapids, who arrived at 3 a.m. to buy $120 for eights of skunk berry and platinum sunshine flower: “It’s safe and tested. I know where it’s coming from. The stigma is essentially gone.”

Consumers can purchase up to 2.5 ounces at a time. Marijuana cannot be used in public, on school property or on federal lands. It is illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana. Employers still can fire or refuse to hire people who fail a drug test.

“It’s a historic day,” said Narmin Jarrous, vice president of business development for Exclusive. “This is a big step toward decriminalization within the state, which we support.”

Although businesses can transfer medical marijuana for recreational sale, Jarrous said access for patients to medical marijuana is a top concern for the company.

“If there are shortages with the recreational, people might be disappointed,” Jarrous said. “Access for our patients is our No. 1 priority.”

For now, though, Exclusive has stocked its shelves with marijuana available for adult-use sales.

Mo Orr, 46, of Pontiac was enthusiastic: “It’s like Christmas came early.”

———

© 2019 The Detroit News

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