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How recreational pot could shift the landscape of marijuana use in Michigan

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"We see a lot of patients that use it just for medical reasons and medical reasons only. They don't necessarily want to be associated with people using it for any other reason," said Lisa Conine, with the Ann Arbor dispensary Om of Medicine.

It's been almost a year since Michigan voters legalized recreational marijuana. Soon, the state will begin accepting applications for recreational pot businesses. That begs the question: what does all this mean for the existing medical marijuana industry in Michigan? 

Lisa Conine of Om of Medicine, a medical marijuana dispensary in Ann Arbor, predicts that “pretty much every dispensary” will apply for a recreational license.

That’s because Michigan will give medical marijuna dispensaries priority when it comes to recreational licensing for the next two years, a move that Conine says is meant to speed up the implementation process.

Conine expects that eligible existing marijuana dispensaries will be licensed and able to sell recreational weed to the general public early next year. But those who have medical marijuana cards will still have “some perks” even after anyone over 21 can legally purchase cannabis.

“There will be… a [lesser] amount of tax that [people with cards] will have to pay at the register being in the medical program versus the tax structure for adult use sales,” Conine explained. “We anticipate that they’ll see shorter lines, wait times, and more attention on them.”

The divide between Michigan’s medical and recreational marijuana programs means that patients and casual users who visit the same dispensary will be served separately. But Conine thinks that keeping those two businesses “under one roof” will help better educate people and normalize all kinds of cannabis use. 

Michigan's law on recreational marijuana also allows for “social use consumption spaces” in communities that approve them. Those are private businesses where people could consume cannabis outside of their own homes. Ann Arbor passedan ordinance last week that would allow for such cannabis consumption centers. 

“What better way to normalize [marijuana], something people have been using for thousands of years, than to have it be done in a communal way?” Conine said.

Conine understands that some Michiganders may be concerned about how the sale of recreational marijuana could impact the state. Gaps in research on the effects of cannabis, she argued, are due to its federal classification as a Schedule I drug. That’s why Conine suggests that those who are in favor of further research on marijuana should get in touch with their local representatives.

“If you’re frustrated and worried, then call up your senator and tell them that we need more research on cannabis,” Conine said. “Let’s deschedule cannabis from a Schedule I status so we can actually understand it in the way that we need to [in order] to fully utilize it and keep us all safe.”

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas.

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