Nation & World

Michigan, Illinois set for recreational marijuana sales

Hiccups are expected in opening weeks

This Nov. 25, 2019 photo shows marijuana on display at Arbors Wellness in the medical marijuana shop in Ann Arbor, Mich. Adults age 21 and over will be able to buy marijuana for recreational use starting Sunday, Dec. 1 in Michigan. (AP Photo/David Eggert)
This Nov. 25, 2019 photo shows marijuana on display at Arbors Wellness in the medical marijuana shop in Ann Arbor, Mich. Adults age 21 and over will be able to buy marijuana for recreational use starting Sunday, Dec. 1 in Michigan. (AP Photo/David Eggert)
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — James Daly is eager to make marijuana history today, when he plans to open the doors to Arbors Wellness, beckon the lengthy line outside and legally start selling recreational pot for the first time in the Midwest.

“We’ve worked very hard to be prepared,” said Daly, who owns the medical dispensary that, for now, is among just six shops in Michigan — mostly in Ann Arbor — also approved to start selling for adult use in December. The business is doubling staff and has fielded calls from potential customers across the state along with neighboring Ohio and Indiana.

“The end of prohibition is historic,” he said. “We wanted to rip the Band-Aid off.”

Both Michigan and Illinois, which allows sales starting Jan. 1, are officially joining nine other states that broadly allow marijuana sales. Companies are rushing to complete renovations at dispensaries, expand their growing facilities, and get staff hired and trained.

The Midwestern states’ launch into the potentially lucrative recreational market comes at a turbulent time for the industry, which has been rocked by layoffs, the vaping health scare and investor disappointment with Canada’s marijuana program.

In both states, a limited number of businesses have received state licenses letting them sell recreational products initially. But those same retailers must keep enough product on hand to supply people certified as patients under medical marijuana laws.

The conditions are “almost a guarantee” that Illinois and Michigan customers will experience long lines, product shortages and potentially high prices in the early stages, said Adam Orens, co-founder of the Marijuana Policy Group.

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“They’ve got to get through the growing pains to get a system implemented,” he said.

Taking marijuana from a small cutting to dried flower ready to be sold or transformed into edible gummies or oils takes months.

In Illinois, seven months will have separated Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signing of legislation permitting people 21 and older to buy and possess marijuana and the start of sales in January.

The first round of applications is limited to existing medical marijuana retailers, and about 30 are newly licensed to sell recreational products. More could be approved before January.

Most of the state’s licensed cultivation companies are expanding their space to meet higher demand for marijuana products. But that work takes time, too.

Mark de Souza, CEO of the state’s largest marijuana producer Revolution Enterprises, said he has heard from dispensary operators “panicked” that they could have empty shelves within months of adult sales beginning.

But he believes the overall structure Illinois’ law created will become the industry’s “gold standard.”

“You’re going to ensure everything from compliance to truth in labeling to taxes to consumer safety,” he said. “We don’t think any short-term supply issues are going to be harmful.”

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Still, retailers are considering appointment-based systems rather than lining up customers in winter weather. Others have retrofitted their dispensaries to let medical patients in one door and recreational customers in another, hoping to limit confusion if their product supplies run low.

Amy Manganelli, chief operating officer at Mapleglen Care Center in Rockford, said she is anticipating long lines and taking steps to prepare employees.

“We can’t open Jan. 1 and have somebody futzing with the scanner,” she said. “That won’t make the people in line, standing outside in winter, very happy.”

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