Everything You Need to Know About Legal Weed in Michigan

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

While medical marijuana has been under federal threat since Jeff Sessions became attorney general, a deal reached just last week with lawmakers seems to have safeguarded states’ legal marijuana programs, leading many in Michigan to take a deep (or, um, very deep) breath of relief. Since we’ve all dodged that federal bullet, we figured there’s no better way to celebrate than by compiling a comprehensive guide for everything you need to know, everyone you need to see, and everywhere you need to go to get legal, medical marijuana in the state.

Dr. Nina Robb, who operates a medical marijuana practice in Southfield called Integrity Medicine, has over six years of experience in medical marijuana certifications. She’s also taken the course required of doctors who assist medical marijuana patients in New York state. Dr. Robb wanted to make sure to dispel a few myths about medical marijuana in Michigan, starting with the idea of prescriptions.

How do I get a prescription for medical marijuana?

“First of all, there’s no such thing as a prescription for medical marijuana in the state of Michigan,” Dr. Robb explained. “What you get is a certification -- the physician is certifying for the state of Michigan that the patient has a condition that qualifies them to use marijuana medically. You have to see that physician face to face, you need to bring in state-issued ID, and medical records that prove you have the condition. Once you do that, the paperwork is sent off and approved by the state and the state sends you a card.”

“It’s very important and required by the state that there’s a bona fide patient/physician relationship,” Dr. Robb added. “The doctor needs to be in a business location, require medical records and have an ongoing relationship with the patient.” While some doctors have specialty training in the medical uses of marijuana, Michigan -- unlike Pennsylvania and New York -- doesn’t require this extra training, so you’ll need to ask.

Dr. Robb said that patients should look for someone who isn’t just there to sign a form -- the state may decide there’s not a real relationship in that kind of scenario, and a doctor who simply signs is unlikely to provide advice or guidance to help patients make the best use of what is, in fact, medication. “[Patients] should make sure they go to a physician who’s going to spend time with them. Marijuana is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and there are specific ways to use it for specific conditions,” Robb cautioned.

How do doctors qualify to certify medical marijuana patients?

In Michigan, any licensed medical doctor can certify that a patient has the qualifying conditions. No further training beyond a regular medical education is required, although as we stated earlier, the doctor and patient do need to have a true doctor/patient relationship, and medical records, ID, and in-person visits are mandatory.

Most marijuana clinics in Detroit and Ann Arbor charge between $75-$125 for initial or renewing certifications. The state of Michigan requires an additional $60 for the Licensing and Regulatory Administration (LARA). Once you have your medical paperwork in order, you mail it to the state along with your check, and after two to three weeks, the state mails you a medical marijuana card good for two years. Patients must renew their certification with a doctor every two years to stay legal.

What are the approved conditions?

Michigan has three categories of approved conditions for using medical marijuana. “[T]here’s Category A, which are specific diagnoses – cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, ALS, Crohn’s disease, agitation of Alzheimer’s, and nail patella,” Dr. Robb explained. Category B, meanwhile, is more of a list of symptoms that must be recognized as “severe” in order to meet the criteria, and include things like seizures, severe muscle spasms, chronic pain, and cachexia. “The symptoms can be from many diseases, but it’s the symptoms you’re being treated for” in this category, according to Dr. Robb.

The third category has just one qualifying condition: PTSD. While some mistakenly believe that autism is a qualifying condition, according to Dr. Robb, “autism was reviewed and declined” by the state medical board in charge of deciding qualifying conditions.

Where can I buy medical marijuana in Michigan?

Virtually everywhere; because medical marijuana has been legal in Michigan since 2012, dispensaries are abundant, although many municipalities (i.e., “the suburbs”) have passed ordinances that ban any marijuana businesses in their areas. Websites like Weedmaps and Leafly serve a Yelp equivalent for legal weed in the state, as they do for every other state where it’s been legalized.

It becomes harder to find dispensaries as you travel north and west in Michigan, but they do exist. The greatest concentrations of dispensaries are around Detroit, Ann Arbor, Flint, and Lansing, which makes sense: bigger cities demand more plentiful dispensaries. Finding legal weed anywhere near the Ohio border, though, is a no-go; the furthest south you’ll find dispensaries now is Ann Arbor, after the closure of State Line in Morenci. Kalamazoo has exactly one dispensary: Lake Effect, which has a diverse menu, including a deep bench of indicas and sativas, as well as hybrids, waxes, and edibles.  

In Detroit, most dispensaries lie along a strip of 8 Mile on the city’s north side, not far from Ferndale (one of the very few Metro Detroit suburbs even considering marijuana businesses). In Michigan, you can also designate a caregiver to grow marijuana and produce products for you. These providers don’t need to operate a dispensary, but you do need to designate one on your medical marijuana card application in order to legally buy from a caregiver. Caregivers are a real lifesaver for patients in the western, southern and northern parts of the state where dispensaries are few and far between.

In addition to dispensaries and designated caregivers, there are also delivery services that bring marijuana directly to patients’ homes.

What can I buy at a Michigan dispensary?

Depending on their location and the amount of competition in the area, Michigan dispensaries can offer a dizzying (literally) array of marijuana products and accessories. Flower’s obviously pretty widespread, but you can also find just about any form of edible you can think of -- hard candies, cookies, brownies, gummies, chocolate bars, THC-infused drinks... the list goes on and on. In addition to all the ingestible, smokable products, dispensaries also sell every accessory you need to get fully (medically) crunk: rolling papers, lighters, pipes, bongs, vape pens, dabbing rigs (rechargeable pen-like smoking devices for resins), and vaporizers. If you’ve got the cash, you can buy just about anything you’d like a Michigan dispensary, and avail yourself of a seemingly infinite collection of devices to help you load your bloodstream with THC.

Dispensary culture varies from place to place; college towns like Ann Arbor are friendlier and less likely to emphasize security, while many Detroit outlets are all about green in, green out, while making sure they don’t get robbed, ever.

medical marijuana
Teri Virbickis/Shutterstock

Will insurance pay for medical marijuana?

No way, and Medicare/Medicaid are also a hard pass. Most dispensaries only take cash, but many offer ATMs for your convenience; Bloom City Club in Ann Arbor even slips a random $50 bill in with the 20s that the machine normally dispenses, so one lucky stoner gets a $30 gift. Virtually no dispensaries take credit cards, because the banking and asset forfeiture rules for dispensaries are confusing at best, and a recipe for jail time at worst. Bring paper money or an ATM card, and expect to be dealing in green in every direction.

While most insurance won’t pay any of the costs involved in medical marijuana, Dr. Robb says there’s one exception: “This is medicine, and patients can pay for the medical office visit with an HSA or health savings account.” These accounts also sometimes allow medical marijuana patients to cover costs for co-pays and medical visits (though not state fees, sadly).

Can I open a dispensary?

In Michigan, dispensaries are heavily regulated and licensed by the state... but, sure, you can do a lot of things if you have a bottomless supply of cash. Applying for a dispensary license starts with a $6,000 fee, and a paper application that runs nearly 50 pages. The applicant has to provide tax and financial data going back three years, submit background checks on anyone taking part in the business (criminal history and litigation history are both on the table here), produce documentation about other businesses or property interests, and present a detailed plans for keeping records, marketing products and maintaining inventory. Given the documentation required, assembling the necessary materials can add thousands to the fee the state collects.

The state application also requires that the business have a local license, and each municipality that allows dispensaries has its own fees and forms -- the city of Detroit, for example, charges $3,000. After you spend at least $9,000 on state and local fees, you still need a building to operate out of, security for the space, inventory, and other expenses. The Cannabis Legal Group estimates the total cost of opening a Michigan dispensary at between $400,000 and $500,000.

None of this guarantees that the federal government will respect your very expensive business, mind you; there’s a disclaimer all state applicants must sign that reads “I understand that a Michigan Marihuana facility license does not insulate or shield me or my business from federal seizure and/or forfeiture as allowed by federal law and does not insulate me from federal criminal arrest and/or prosecution." And yes, marijuana really is spelled with an “H” in the application, as well as in the official legislation.

Am I allowed to grow my own medical marijuana?

If you have a card, or are an approved caregiver, then yes: you can grow a small amount of medical marijuana: 12 plants or 2.5 ounces of cannabis. Caregivers are also allowed to grow marijuana for state-approved, certified patients. Designating a caregiver adds $25 to the $60 state fee, but for patients in areas that lack dispensaries, they’re a good alternative. According to the state’s medical marijuana act, “For each qualifying patient to whom he or she is connected through the department's registration process, a combined total of 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana and usable marijuana equivalents.” This can also consist of “12 marijuana plants kept in an enclosed, locked facility.”

While you can’t open a dispensary without a lot of money, depending on the definition of “secure, locked facility,” the caregiver route allows people interested in this area of the economy to develop skills and a customer base before attempting what experts call at least a half-million-dollar gamble.

How does this affect stuff like background checks and federal benefits?

Marijuana is still illegal federally, so there’s almost no “get-out-of-jail-free-card” benefit to your state card. Veterans are often very wary of losing VA benefits over medical marijuana use because the drug is illegal nationally, and the current presidential administration -- specifically Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who famously said, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana” -- has created a climate of confusion and worry for people who need VA services or who work for the federal government.

Like they say in the state application for opening a dispensary: Use at your own risk, and don’t be surprised if the federal government throws a wrench (an expensive, possibly jail-time kind of wrench) in your plans.

Is recreational weed coming to Michigan anytime soon?

Recreational marijuana will likely appear on the ballot in November. Given that polling shows the legislation will pass, and that marijuana on a ballot leads to greater turnout, lawmakers in Lansing are considering introducing a bill and voting directly to legalize recreational marijuana themselves, taking it off the ballot effectively. With critical statewide elections for governor, attorney general, and the US Senate seat currently held by Democrat Debbie Stabenow coming this November, too, no issue that brings liberals to voting booths in 2018 is something the Republican-controlled state legislature wants to see on any statewide ballot.

Pollster Dennis Darnoi told Detroit’s Channel 4 that recreational marijuana would easily pass if it were voted on in Michigan right now. ”If it were today, it would pass with 55% or 56% of the vote," Darnoi said. High Times concurs, saying that the state legislature, which has enacted some of the nation’s toughest voter ID laws and that thrives on gerrymandering, will be eager to suppress a “cannabis bump” in voter turnout. Given that the Center for Michigan found the state to have some of the most effective gerrymandering and voter suppression policies in the country, and that Donald Trump only won the state by 10,000 votes, legal weed may be a surprise winner amid the chaos of 2018’s midterm elections. In other words, stay tuned.

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Rebecca Golden lives in Detroit and is working on her second book, Welcome to Detroit. Follow her on Twitter for subversive ideas about food, drink, cats, and the city.