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LANSING, Mich. — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer eliminated Michigan's medical marijuana licensing board March 1, 2019, and folded its functions into a newly created agency, citing “inefficiencies” since the state began more tightly regulating the market.

Whitmer issued an order establishing the Marijuana Regulatory Agency. It will take effect April 30, 2019, unless it is rejected by the Republican-led Legislature, whose leaders reacted positively to the move.

The agency will assume the powers of Michigan's Bureau of Marijuana Regulation along with the medical marijuana licensing board and an advisory panel. The board has come under criticism for too slowly reviewing and issuing licenses to businesses in a new tiered system amid a reported shortage of marijuana. The state had to repeatedly extend licensing deadlines over the past year.

“This executive order will eliminate inefficiencies that have made it difficult to meet the needs of Michigan's medical marijuana patients,” Whitmer said in a statement. “All elements of this agency have been designed to serve and better protect Michigan residents, and I'm eager to have a unified effort across state departments to make sure this process runs effectively and efficiently.”

This executive order will eliminate inefficiencies that have made it difficult to meet the needs of Michigan's medical marijuana patients. Click To Tweet

The new agency will also regulate businesses entering the market for recreational marijuana, which was legalized by voters Nov. 6, 2018.

Under a 2008 voter-approved law that authorized medical marijuana, roughly 293,000 patients are registered with the state to grow their own cannabis or obtain it from 41,000 registered caregivers who can supply a limited number of people. A 2016 law aimed in part to address confusion surrounding the legality of dispensaries, called provisioning centers by state law, created a separate five-tiered system to grow, process, sell, transport, or test medical marijuana.

To date, 105 licenses have been issued.

Whitmer's move was welcomed by an industry group, law enforcement leaders, lawmakers and others. Shelly Edgerton, an attorney who led the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs under former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, said abolishing the medical marijuana licensing board is a “step in the right direction. ... The volunteer board took on a monumental lift to get this program going, but in the short time frame the program has been running, we have not seen the expected volume of licensees entering the market.”

A spokeswoman for GOP Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said Whitmer and he discussed at length the changes leading up to her order. Shirkey supports the move and “appreciates the governor's willingness to discuss the issue beforehand,” said Amber McCann.

Whitmer ordered that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development handle the rulemaking process to regulate industrial hemp.

—David Eggert

Featured Image: Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, shown delivering the State of the State address Feb. 12, 2019, in the Capitol in Lansing, has eliminated the state's medical marijuana licensing board and established the Marijuana Regulatory Agency. Republicans, who control the Legislature, favored the move, their legislative leaders said. (Associated Press file photo/Al Goldis)