The legalized cannabis market in Benzinga's home state of Michigan is "growing exponentially," and the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't prevented new businesses from entering the market, according to Michigan's top marijuana regulator.
Andrew Brisbo, the executive director of the Marijuana Regulatory Agency, spoke Tuesday at Benzinga's virtual Cannabis Capital Conference. The panel was moderated by Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan and the state's former lieutenant governor.
Michigan's Growth Since December: Recreational cannabis went on sale in Michigan in December 2019, and at that time monthly medical marijuana sales totaled about $26 million, Brisbo said.
Fast forward to March, and total marijuana sales in the state were $52 million, growing to $109 million in July.
Despite sales increasing by more than a factor of four in just a few months, the market is still in its infancy.
Even if total sales for 2020 surpass $1 billion, that figure represents one-third of the total potential of the Michigan market, Brisbo said.
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Michigan's Main Challenges: One of the challenges facing the industry are municipalities that limit the number of stores that can legally operate and sell recreational products, the Michigan Regulatory Agency said.
"The consumer demand is there, but there's also only so far consumers will go to make their purchases."
The pandemic has slowed down all government activities and public consultations, Bribso said. But the "conversation is there," and municipalities are becoming open to advancing the industry to collect additional tax revenue and create jobs in their communities, he said.
The Cannabis Banking World: Cannabis entrepreneurs require a lot of money to start a business and have the added challenge of complying with different regulations, Brisbo said. The regulatory agency has played a role in establishing relationships with Michigan lenders to ease these concerns, he said.
The only long-term solution must come at the federal level, including a reduction in the 70% tax on legal marijuana businesses, he said.
Social Equity For Michigan Cannabis: The Marijuana Regulatory Agency is focused on communities with a higher-than-average poverty or arrest rate, Brisbo said, adding that residents of these communities should have an equal playing field in achieving success.
"For them to be able to benefit from this new legalized industry is paramount to the mission of the agency," he said.
"We are working hard to try and come up with ideas — and big picture ideas, not just those at the agency level, but how we can partner with the legislature to ensure real change is enacted."
Andrew Brisbo, executive director of Michigan's Marijuana Regulatory Agency. Benzinga file photo by Dustin Blitchok.
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