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Audits examine Department of Civil Rights, Cannabis Regulatory Agency

Jars of marijuana strands
Adobe Stock

A new state audit is highlighting issues with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights’ handling of complaints.  

The report from the Office of the Auditor General looked at a period from 2021 through mid-2022. It found investigations took over a year-and-a-half, on average, to complete.  

“MDCR stated it lacked an adequate number of investigators to complete investigations in a timely manner and informed us MDCR investigators had an average of 80 to 100 cases each,” the audit read.  

It also noted administrative issues like a lack of a process to reconcile emailed complaints, and missing documentation around some verbal intake interviews.  

Department Director John E. Johnson Jr. said the findings weren’t surprising. He said his team has been overworked and underfunded.  

“The Legislature looked upon us for years and continued to fund us at the same amount. But what we’ve done is reallocated some of our resources within the department. We’ve strengthened some of our teams through more training,” Johnson said.  

He said he approached the state Auditor General’s Office about the review because he wanted to be proactive about fixing problems.  

Johnson took over the department in 2021. He said during his time in charge, it’s gone from a backlog of 2,900 cases to around 1,400.  

Meanwhile, the state’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget allocates more funds for the department to increase its staff.  

Johnson describes that as pivotal.  

“We do receive cases from across the state. At one point, we only had 29 investigators that were assigned to investigate not only the 2,900 cases that were backlogged but the 600 contacts, well at that time 500 contacts, we get per month,” Johnson said.  

Overall, the audit had one finding in material condition and five findings in reportable condition.  

Meanwhile, the state Auditor General also released a performance audit of the Cannabis Regulatory Agency Thursday.  

That report found the CRA is largely effective at enforcing the state’s marijuana laws, with some exceptions.  

The audit looked at multiple areas, including how well the agency is running the state’s Medical Marijuana Program, licensing activities, and meeting reporting requirements.  

The Auditor General’s office found the agency effective, sufficient, and in compliance in those areas.  

But it observed issues around the CRA’s enforcement of cannabis regulations. The agency left complaints open for over a year in several cases.  

“The violations in these complaints included issues related to inventory handling and production, sales, waste disposal, general operations, and surveillance and security,” the audit read.  

The CRA was also late in conducting over a thousand inspections.  

In its preliminary response, the agency acknowledged timing issues. It pointed to new staff it hired to help address the delays.  

But it pushed back against the notion that its delays in disciplinary actions constituted a material condition, saying there’s no timeline detailed in law.  

“The CRA recognizes the amount of time these complaints have been open is not ideal and requires improvement, however, all complaints suggesting any risk to public health and safety are prioritized and remedied first,” the agency wrote in its preliminary response.  

The audit stretched from April 2021 through September 2022.