Years of work to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use will bear fruit on Sunday when the first sales of legal weed take place in Michigan.
Three pot shops in Ann Arbor, already known as a cannabis-friendly city, will be ground zero for the start of recreational marijuana sales.
The three retailers — Exclusive Brands, Arbor Wellness and Greenstone Provisions — have been gearing up as the first businesses licensed by the state to be able to sell legal weed to anyone over the age of 21, beginning sometime after 10 a.m. Sunday.
“We’re not really sure what to expect. It’s an unprecedented event,” said Maggie Smith, manager of Greenstone. “People have been calling to see if they can make reservations.”
For anyone thinking about that, you can’t.
The timing of the first sales remained a bit up in the air. A state employee in Lansing was expected to “flip the switch,” technologically speaking, so that the three shops could begin transferring marijuana products from the medical side of the business to the new recreational market, both in the state’s computer system and within the shop.
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That flip was expected to happen at 10 a.m. Then the shops were expected to switch their inventory — but they are allowed to transfer only 50% of the medical products that have been on their shelves for at least 30 days.
That means there wasn’t expected to be an abundance of product available on the first day of sales.
“We do plan to open on Dec. 1 with a limited adult-use inventory,” said James Daly, owner of Arbor Wellness. “We don’t want it to be at the expense of our medical patients.”
While there might not be full shelves, all three stores were expecting long lines of people hoping to mark the milestone by scoring a joint, an edible, or a gram or two of cannabis flower. In Colorado, where legal weed sales began Jan. 1, 2014, 24 shops opened and lines snaked around blocks. An estimated $1 million in sales was made that wintry New Year’s Day.
At Exclusive Brands, the shop’s first sale will just be the start of a new era for the store.
“We’re hoping to have an all-day celebration,” said owner Omar Hishmeh.
Three more retail shops — Lit Provisioning Center in Evart, a small mid-Michigan town between Clare and Cadillac, Skymint in Ann Arbor and Michigan Supply and Provisions in Morenci, just north of the Ohio border — got their state licenses to sell legal weed on Wednesday, but they weren’t expected to be ready to start sales on Sunday.
Rick Thompson, owner of the Michigan Cannabis Business Development Group, said after working for years to get marijuana legalized in Michigan, the first day of sales will be bittersweet.
“It’s certainly a benchmark and a doorway to a new era,” he said. “I just wish it would be more accessible to more Michiganders at the outset.”
The sales come just over a year since Michigan voters approved a ballot measure that legalized marijuana use, possession, growing and sales by a 56%-44% margin. Michigan became the 10th state in the nation to legalize weed for adult recreational use.
The state began accepting applications for recreational marijuana business licenses on Nov. 1 and has since awarded eight licenses and pre-qualified another 73 applications. But more than 1,400 of the state’s 1,771 communities have said they don’t want marijuana businesses in their towns, so finding a city that’s amenable to legal weed has been a challenge for businesses.
Many cities are holding off while local leaders develop ordinances that will govern marijuana businesses and others have said yes to marijuana, but are going through the process of deciding which businesses will be allowed in.
So even though the rollout of legal sales will be slow and limited, the number of businesses is expected to grow in the new year.
“Regardless of the form of the sales, though, legalization should be celebrated,” Thompson said.
Ann Arbor is an appropriate place for pot sales to begin. It was the first city in Michigan to decriminalize marijuana in 1972, when the City Council made possession a civil infraction carrying a small fine.
It’s also the home of the wildly popular annual Hash Bash, a celebration of all things cannabis on the University of Michigan’s Diag.
„It’s great because Ann Arbor was one of the first communities to say cannabis prohibition isn’t working. Ann Arbor has had a leadership role in cannabis law reform since the 1970s,” said state Sen. Jeff Irwin, who helped lead the ballot proposal campaign legalizing marijuana. „Now that the law is changed, it’s great that Ann Arbor gets to a place that’s pioneered.”
Thompson said he planned to make the trek to Ann Arbor on Sunday.
“Every time I think of the legalized market, I have a big smile on my face,” he said. “I won’t let this day go buy without being there, so I’ll be in Ann Arbor on Sunday.”
Contact Kathleen Gray: 313-223-4430, email@example.com or on Twitter @michpoligal.