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Michigan’s marijuana industry now has a regulatory referee

Marijuana Regulatory Agency Executive Director Andrew Brisbo displays files associated with one of the applications for medical marijuana licensing in Michigan at the bureau's office in Lansing, Mich. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. (Lauren Gibbons/Ann Arbor News via AP)

By AMY BIOLCHINI
MLive.com
AP Member Exchange
GRAND RAPIDS– The man in charge of refereeing Michigan’s marijuana market isn’t one to reveal his personal opinions about the newly legalized drug.
Andrew Brisbo is now officially the executive director of the renamed Marijuana Regulatory Agency after a recent Senate confirmation hearing.
During the hearing, Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, pressed Brisbo repeatedly on his personal views on marijuana.
“The decisions that you make — especially in regard to the administrative rules that the department is going to recommend and this legislature has limited capacity at this point in history to change or delay, come directly from your viewpoints in how you want these regulations to go forward,” McBroom said to MLive.com. “We pass statutes that give you authority to make rules — but the tone of those rules; the strictness of them; how they are going to be enforced come directly from your perspective.”
Brisbo didn’t budge.
“My job is to implement laws,” Brisbo said. “My personal feelings don’t matter.”
State officials will accept applications for adult-use marijuana businesses as early as September.
For the past two and a half years Brisbo has overseen the development of new rules for Michigan’s medical marijuana market as a result of a 2016 law. He’s met with thousands of stakeholders in the industry during his tenure at the helm of the Bureau of Marijuana Regulation — which recently became the MRA under an executive order from Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
“Andrew will be critical in determining and achieving solutions as we develop new marijuana regulations in Michigan,” Whitmer said in a statement. “He brings a wealth of expert knowledge on this subject, which will be essential through this implementation process while protecting Michigan residents.”
Now Brisbo will lead an 102-member staff and the marijuana industry forward into its most challenging chapter: recreational marijuana.
“He has a very important role,” said Matt Abel, a Detroit cannabis lawyer, of Brisbo. “He will make a lot of decisions that will affect people’s lives with the medical program and the business licensing.”
Lawmakers have limited ability to shape the recreational marijuana market in Michigan, as any changes to the law require an elusive two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate — a point McBroom emphasized during Brisbo’s confirmation hearing.
That was intentional, Abel said. He helped to write the adult-use marijuana law that voters approved in November 2018.
“We had suffered under eight years of Republican foot dragging,” Abel said. “We designed it so there would be not as much discretion to get the program moving. It seems the new governor has more interest in getting the new program moving than the last one did.”
Brisbo’s path to marijuana regulation wasn’t a direct one. He has a bachelor’s degree in leisure services administration from Central Michigan University.
He wanted to run a municipal parks and recreation program.
“Life takes you in different ways,” Brisbo said to MLive in August 2018. “I ended up in regulation and enforcement instead.”
Brisbo started his career with state government in 2004, when he worked as a regulation officer in Detroit’s casinos. He later advanced to oversee a Secretary of State branches in Lansing, Howell and Ann Arbor before moving on to roles in the state’s licensing division.
Former Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Executive Director Shelly Edgerton tapped Brisbo to analyze the 2016 medical marijuana regulatory bills — and put him in charge of the new Bureau of Medical Marihuana Regulation.
The roll-out of medical marijuana regulations hasn’t been entirely smooth, as state officials allowed certain businesses who had filed license applications by Feb. 15, 2018, to operate unlicensed. Holding those businesses to a compliance deadline has been a problem for the state, as attempt after attempt has been successfully challenged in court.