thankful graphic because we are thankful for cannabis legalization in Michigan

Cannabis Legalization in Michigan: A New Day

This piece first appeared in Rapid Growth as a guest blog on November 15, 2018

There are moments in your life when things happen and you always rememdrawing of Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, he is mentioned in this article about cannabis legalization in Michiganber where you were and what you were doing. Some memorable events are bad, like the Challenger explosion, the World Trade Center attacks, or the death of Jerry Garcia. And then there are the good, memorable events. I’ll never forget when same-sex marriage was made legal. And most recently when cannabis legalization happened in Michigan with the voter approval of Proposition 1. My business partner and I launched our firm, Canna Communication, in the summer of 2017, knowing we’d be working in medical cannabis for a couple of years, but were focused on the passage of adult-use recreational legalization. I spent election night in Detroit watching voting returns in a Jefferson Avenue law office, consuming cannabis with a few dozen other activists until early in the morning when we were sure we’d won. I proudly wore the heady scent of marijuana the entire next day.

Sometime in early December — ten days after the election results are certified — Prop 1 will begin to be implemented. For those of you that were hoping to go out and buy cannabis in a shop, you’ll have to wait for at least a year; that’s how long the legislature has to review and adopt the law.

The good news is, if you already have cannabis on your person, you’re not a criminal anymore, and that’s the most critical aspect of the passage of this law.

If commerce and tax revenue are the brains of ending prohibition, then decriminalization is its heart.

With the new law, you can grow up to 12 plants on your property without having a caregiver license. You can possess up to 2.5 ounces on your person. You can have up to 10 ounces in your home. None of this is a crime anymore. If you are a non-medical, card-carrying marijuana consumer, you no longer need to worry about trouble with the police if you have cannabis and let’s say, you are stopping for speeding. As long as you are NOT under the influence or using as you’re driving, the small bag of marijuana in your purse or pocket is your own damn business.

For people of color, marijuana law has always been unfair. According to the ACLU, people of color are arrested at a rate 3.7 times greater than white people, though whites, African Americans, and Latinx people use cannabis at the same rate. The war on drugs that we all grew up with was an invention of President Richard Nixon, not based on facts, but on his personal whim. It’s come to light that he moved cannabis to schedule 1 status to repress young war protesters and black people.

Consider this quote from John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic policy advisor speaking to reporter Dan Baum in Harper’s magazine, “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”

How about that 10-ounce possession cap that has taken a few people by surprise?

Cannabis flower is light in weight, and 10 ounces is a lot of product, more than 200 joints depending on how you roll. Critics of the law say that’s too much. But, consider this: there’s no limit to the amount of beer, liquor, or wine you can have in your home, right? If you want a wine cellar with 200 bottles, a well-stocked bar, or a keg of beer in your home, it’s your right as an adult to do that. We need to think about cannabis that way, too. Just because you have you ten ounces, doesn’t mean you’re just sitting around consuming it all at once. Marijuana keeps well in a cool, dark, dry place, just like wine.

Cannabis Legalization in Michigan = Economic Gains.

Cannabis legalization in Michigan brings opportunities for businesses and jobs here and not just selling the plant. Because public consumption (smoking or vaping) isn’t allowed — not on the street, in a place of business, or in your personal vehicle — there should be opportunities for people to create private or membership-style spaces for consumption.

Popular in already-legal states are bud and breakfast accommodations, outdoor patios where people can consume, places for puff n paint events, party buses where people can consume while taking tours of growing operations and provisioning centers. In Colorado, Amsterdam-style coffee shops are popping up. In Aspen, Colorado, cannabis sales outpaced alcohol in 2017. Much of the potential cannabis tourism will be dependent on how Michigan’s legislature digs into the specifics of the law.

Marijuana activists still have work to do post-Prop 1. People need to stay in contact with or begin conversations with elected officials about how the law will be implemented. It’s likely that the legislature will attempt to over-regulate cannabis where it is able to do so. On the local level, we need to watch our city, village, or township meeting agendas for opt-in discussions. Just over 100 municipalities in Michigan are open to medical marijuana businesses at present, and many municipalities were waiting to see if legalization passed. The marijuana opposition has stated that its next effort is to stop opt-ins in communities. If you want to see Prop 1 enacted in your community, you’ll continue to need to make your voice heard. We need to work together, too, for expungement of prior marijuana arrest records and for the release of those serving time for minor marijuana crimes.

By the time of the next election, we’ll have lived with recreational cannabis in Michigan for about a year. There will be some speed bumps and rough patches, I’m sure. But like the West and East coast states that have already blazed the trail, the sky will not fall and Michigan citizens will see the benefit of new businesses, jobs, and taxes, not to mention the easy pleasure of marijuana consumption.

marijuana legalization in Michigan is approved by voters cannabis flowers like this one pictured will be legal to purchase by people 21 and older

Marijuana Legalization in Michigan: Our FAQs

Because we work in the marijuana business, we get frequent questions from people about what marijuana legalization in Michigan. Here are our thoughts and some data on the topic.

What is on the ballot?
Proposition 1 is a citizen-driven ballot initiative to end cannabis prohibition in Michigan. If you vote yes, it means you want marijuana to be able to be sold to adults 21 and older in Michigan. If you vote no, Michigan will remain a medical-only state.

Why are you supportive of the proposal for marijuana legalization in Michigan?
First, because adults can make decisions for themselves about what they put in their bodies, be it supersized soft drinks, whiskey, craft beer or tobacco or asparagus. We are able to make those decisions for ourselves and we should be able to do that.
Second, the prohibition of cannabis hasn’t worked. It created a large black market that exists to this day. People who don’t have a medical marijuana card can still buy marijuana, and even before medical marijuana became legal 10 years ago, it was always easy to find. Prohibition didn’t work with alcohol and it isn’t working with marijuana, either.
Third, the criminalization of marijuana unfairly targets people of color—as it has since Richard Nixon assigned it to schedule 1 in the 1970s. People of color are arrested at a rate 8 times higher than white people for possession of small amounts of marijuana. According to the ACLU, states spend about $3.6 billion each year enforcing marijuana laws. Nationally, more arrests are made for marijuana possession than all violent crimes combined.

What will Michigan look like after Prop 1, if it is passed?
In additions to pretty beaches, tourists soon might be able to visit Michigan for legal marijuanaSince communities can opt-in or out for medical marijuana, a similar policy applies to recreational marijuana legalization in Michigan. But communities will need to opt out. There won’t be provisioning centers in every community—only where zoning has been approved. We’ll probably see a bump in tourism—Michigan will be the first Midwestern state that is legal and there are lots of people who live close to Michigan. Expect that people will come for skiing, beaches, colorful leaves, fudge and cannabis. Under the new law, there will be small boutique growers, which is great for entrepreneurs. This ensures there will be a place for small marijuana businesses in Michigan. Cannabis microbusinesses will be small businesses licensed to grow up to 150 marijuana plants and process, package, and sell marijuana to consumers.

Can the legislature change anything that is passed?
No, that opportunity passed the legislature earlier this year. The proposal, which is about four pages long, stands as the law. We expect though, that how it is regulated will be where the government will step in and make rules.

Marijuana will still be illegal federally. How does that affect business in Michigan is this is passed?
It will still remain an illegal federal substance, so you can’t mail it or take it across state lines. Businesses will struggle with banking, taxes and standard business deductions, which are not allowed.

Will this increase the amount of driving while high?
It is illegal to drive high, as it is illegal to drive drunk. Some people will do it regardless of the law.

Will marijuana legalization increase drug use of other kinds?
The gateway theory has been well refuted and if you’re inclined to try other drugs, you won’t find them in a marijuana dispensary. That’s a black market issue.

Is marijuana addictive?
It has not been clinically proven to be addictive. It can be overused, like anything that gives a human being pleasure. Unlike alcohol or tobacco, it can’t an edible marijuana cookie bar, it will be legal for all adults if Michigan legalizes marijuanakill you. There are no known cases of cannabis overdoses. Overusing it—usually happens when people overconsume edible cannabis. The effect of edibles is slow to be felt and people tend to take a few extra bites and then, BOOM, an uncomfortable feeling comes on. But it won’t kill you. You might think you are dying, but you won’t be.

Can people be fired from a job for using marijuana if the drug is legal?
Yes. Company personnel policies supersede the law when it comes to drug use. If your workplace prohibits it don’t do it. This also applies to medical marijuana patients.

How much taxes will be collected?
Ten percent of all sales in an excise tax and the Michigan sales tax of six percent will be collected. It’s estimated $100-200 million will be raised and while much of it will be used for PTSD and veteran health research, schools, roads and in communities with marijuana businesses.

How much marijuana can a person legally have?
This proposal, if passed will make possession of up to ten ounces legally. You still can’t drive under the influence or use it on the street, on a beach or in any public place. People 21 and older can grow up to 12 plants in their home without running afoul of the law.

Can we learn anything from other states that have legalized?
It isn’t an easy road for any state to implement this kind of a sweeping change and citizens should expect that it will take 18 months to two years to happen. It will still be highly regulated under the rules that guide Michigan’s medical marijuana businesses at present. Those rules demand 24/7 surveillance/security of growing and provisioning stores, seed to sale tracking, secure transport of cannabis and products and identification and proof of age to purchase.

If you care about marijuana legalization in Michigan it is important that you vote on November 6.

pretty cannabis packaging on some chocolate

Be Amazing Inside and Out: Why Cannabis Packaging Matters

There’s nothing more appealing to a consumer than good packaging and fair pricing. Either by accident or intention, cannabis packaging in Michigan tends to fall short of that standard. We’ve seen bad knockoffs of popular candy brands, in both name and design and kid-friendly graphics. If the cannabis industry wants to be taken seriously, we need to present ourselves in a mature manner and product packaging and branding should reflect that.

When Michigan’s licensing entity LARA sent out guidelines recently about cannabis packaging, we were pleased to see that they are serious about making packaging unappealing to children.

Their cannabis packaging rules state:

No edible marihuana product can be in a shape, color, package, or labeled in a manner that it would appeal to minors aged 17 years or younger.

just say no to bad cannabis packaging like this lollipop
An orange lollipop with 35mg of THC.
an orange lollipop without childproof cannabis packaging
Easy to open by a kid or an adult.

No edible marihuana product can be associated with or have cartoons, caricatures, toys, colors, designs, shapes, labels, or package that would appeal to minors.

No edible marihuana product can be easily confused with commercially sold candy. The use of the word candy or candies on the packaging or labeling is prohibited.

An edible marihuana product must be in child-resistant packages or containers.

In Michigan cannabis is still medicine and is sold to adults (or to an adult for a card-holding minor). It needs packaging that acknowledges this but also remains appealing. Think about the over-the-counter drugs you might buy or herbal supplements. Those products have packaging that is professional, serious and not appealing to kids.

some child proof cannabis packagingCannabis edibles are an upscale product, they’re not inexpensive to purchase and the packaging should reflect the quality of the product contained inside. That’s not to say it has to be expensive or over-packaged, but it does need to be thoughtful in its presentation. People make decisions in a provisioning center based on several factors including price, a word of mouth recommendation, advice from the budtender behind the counter and the appearance of a package.

Studies show that the time slot in which a shelved product can capture the attention of a consumer is very short, one to two seconds. This is why it’s so important for cannabis packaging to be well-designed. You just don’t have that long to get someone’s attention.

good cannabis packaging from Northern LightsToday, brands across every sector are facing an increasingly competitive landscape and an increasingly sophisticated consumer. People tend to disregard mass brand communications in favor of more personalized messaging mediums. Packaging has the power to connect with the consumer to communicate a brand’s message on a physical and individual level.

How many times have you purchased a bottle of wine solely on your attraction to the label? Cannabis products should be thought of similarly. 

Smart packaging design is effective because, more than any other medium, it stays true to the product. It’s the main interface between a brand and consumer. Packaging conveys a host of messages that appeal to different consumers—both young and older, through elements of design such as naming, color, typography, graphics, structure and texture. We think Willie’s Reserve does this right.

cannabis packaging gone wrong, it's too attractive to kidsAn experienced designer can look at the product and create packaging that is sophisticated, appealing and true to the product inside. There’s really no reason that cartoons, colors and childish fonts need to be used in cannabis products. 

Packaging is part of a cannabis brand and being consistent is important.

Branding is one of the most important aspects of your cannabis business—whether you’re large, small, retail or business to business. Your brand is not just a logo, website, corporate identity or marketing collateral. It is your company’s personality. It’s your confidence, passion, action, voice, and set of values that make your company unique. Your brand needs to resonate with audiences in an emotive way. 

Quality cannabis packaging is a necessity.

Packaging design for the cannabis industry needs to be more than simply slapping a pot leaf or joint on a box. Now, more than ever, it’s critical to catch the consumer’s eye as the cannabis marketplace continues to evolve and competition grows.

If you need ideas or assistance with packaging design, Canna Communication can help. We understand the new Michigan rules and we know the art of packaging design.

a party horn with cannabis leaves, for when we will celebrate recreational marijuana legalization in Michigan

Recreational Marijuana in Michigan, Check the Facts.

After months of waiting for petition approval and possible pre-empting by the legislature, recreational marijuana will be on the ballot in Michigan this November.

There’s already plenty of discussion on the topic and as we head to the mid-term elections, it’ll heat up. When Michigan voters approve this measure (and it’s looking promising) we will be the 11th state (plus D.C) to have recreational marijuana. In addition to job creation, recreational marijuana will bring significant tax revenue to the state. Recreational marijuana will be subject to a 10 percent excise tax, on top of our 6 percent sales tax. The money will be used for schools, road repairs and local municipality uses where businesses are located. In Colorado for the first five months of 2018, $109 million has been raised in tax revenue. Michigan has a larger population which gives it significant revenue potential. Neighboring states including Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin have significant close-by populations that will contribute to our income.

We’re voting yes on the recreational marijuana proposal.

It’s important for you to be ready with facts to build a case for those on the fence. It’s important to be able to talk about why ending cannabis prohibition is good for our state and to understand the changes that will occur if approved.

Michigan’s recreational marijuana ballot initiative is complex and has a lot of interesting nuances. It’s based on the best of what the authors and lawyers could find in other recreational legal states. You can read the whole proposal on the Coalition to Legalize Marijuana Like Alcohol website.

We made a little video the goes over some of the key points of the recreational marijuana initiative and where people’s concerns might be. Canna Communication will be blogging about this for the next few months. Come back for more information.

 

 

reading glasses and some content for a new marijuana business that might need a cannabis investor

How to Win Over a Cannabis Investor: What Entrepreneurs Need to Know

You’ve got your cannabis startup going: the license is in process, your business plan completed, marketing plan written, site plan done, security and operations are all there. Things are looking good, except for the money part. You need a cannabis investor or two to help make it happen.

Before You’re Ready to go to The Dance, Make Sure You Know The Steps.

We talked with Eric Seifert about the relationship between investors and cannabis entrepreneurs and what startups need to know when seeking an investment partner.

eric siefert connects cannabis entrepreneur with cannabis investorsEric has been working with investors and startups outside of cannabis for a decade at the Michigan SBDC and since leaving the SBDC has been helping bridge the funding gap in the cannabis space. His company, Left Coast Capital works with investors looking for solid businesses, in cannabis and other businesses as well. Here are ten things Eric says cannabis entrepreneurs need to know before opening themselves up to an investor.

1)   If you know how to grow marijuana, but don’t know much about business, find a partner who does. “Investors look for business sense and experience.” Having a passion for cannabis goes a long way, but so does the idea that you will succeed in business. “If you need to, bring in someone to help your business, to supplement what you really don’t know or what you recognize as a weakness. Show how you can mitigate that.”  You need a solid business plan and it’s smart to give an investor several scenarios for outcomes—one that’s modest, another that shows what you believe to be reasonable growth and another that blows the roof off of all expectations of how the business will grow if things go well.

2)   One of the hardest parts for cannabis entrepreneurs is that they don’t have the kind of documentation that other businesses might have as proof of prior success. “Even a caregiver can show what they’ve done already and how they’ve tracked income and expenses. When you’re scaling up a business, you need to point to your past success, even if it is just a year or two.”

3)   Find great legal and accounting representation. “Compliance is going to be a major issue, if you successfully launch, but then are audited and shut down, that will make for a dissatisfied investor. You need to have your attorney draw up investment documents that protect you.”

4)   You’ll want to work with an accredited investor, someone who can produce a signed affidavit that they have at least $1 million in net worth, an annual income of at least $200,000. It documents that they are an SEC accredited investor.

What a Cannabis Investor Wants From You

5)   Every potential cannabis investor is looking for one thing: making more money than they might in the market. “In your business plan and pitch deck, you need to be able to show profits that are greater than the stock market.” Investors want to get their money back in about 3-4 years and they’ll want a portion of the profits beyond the investment. “They want a big return because they’re taking on so much risk.”

6)   Most cannabis investors want something beyond a return on their investment, and you should expect they would negotiate a percentage ownership of your company for the long or short term. “Investors tend to like hard assets, so the first lien on your building might be an option. If there’s a failure, the investor has something to sell to recoup their losses.”

Show the Investor Your Passion for Cannabis

7)   The entrepreneur, rather than the cannabis industry is where an investor will focus his or her attention. “Investors look for people who are in business for something bigger than making money.” They want to see a passion for the medicinal value of the plant, either personally or for a family member, so make sure you have a relatable story.

cannabis investors want to know how you'll handle money, this is an image of a lot of money8)   You must be able to talk about how you’re going to handle cash and mitigate the risk involved with it. “Investors want to know that their investment won’t be lost at gunpoint. Know what you’re doing to handle cash and security.”

9)    Create a great pitch deck and practice your presentation. “No more than 20 minutes from start to finish, followed by 20 minutes of Q&A.” Investors don’t need to hear every detail about your business—don’t drown people in details until they ask for them.” Investors who want more will ask for it. Stick to the regional view when you’re pitching—don’t worry about national picture yet. “Until cannabis is legal across the U.S. there’s not much point in spending time talking about it. You need to get the investor’s attention, high-level summary information.”

10)  Don’t underestimate your knowledge and skill in the cannabis marketplace. “You need to show passion and expertise for the industry.  It’s an 8 or 9 on the scale of importance.”

 

a marijuana leaf, symbolizing michigan marijuana legalization

Why Michigan Marijuana Legalization is The Next Big Thing


Finally! The Michigan Board of Canvassers approved the signatures to move adult-use marijuana legalization to the ballot in November. This isn’t unexpected, though it felt the board was dragging its feet on approving this—the petitions for Michigan marijuana legalization were turned in last November and just approved in April. BUT, we’re not whining—we’re winning.

This is a Very Big Deal For Ending Marijuana Prohibition And Here’s Why.

Michigan, next to California is the most populous state considering legalization. California has a population of 39.5 million people and Michigan has 9.9 million residents. Keep in mind none of the other legal recreational states have a population the size of Michigan. Colorado has 5.6 million people, Washington 7.4 million, Oregon 4.1 million, Nevada 2.9 million and Alaska 739,000 and on the eastern side of the US: Vermont 620,000, Maine 1.3 million, Washington, DC 693,000 and Massachusetts 6.8 million.

Despite being a cul-de-sac state, we’re close to a lot of big population states and cities. Chicago, which is less than an hour drive away from our border has more than 2.6 million residents; and Illinois has 12 million people, Indiana has 6.6 million people, Ohio has 11.6 million residents and Wisconsin has 5.7 million residents. Added up, it gives Michigan easy access to 62 million people—who live within a half-day or less drive to the state borders. We certainly don’t think that all 62 million will flood in, but if the data holds, 52 percent of that 62 million might just stop in and check out our new industry.

summer in Michigan, soon a be a legal marijuana state if michigan marijuana legalization passesAnother thing that sets Michigan apart from other states that have adult use cannabis is that we are a major tourist state. A four-season tourism state. Pure Michigan spends $35 million on persuading people to visit our pleasant peninsula. Cannabis will be just one more reason for people to visit Michigan. We’ve seen models of cannabis tourism in Colorado, and there’s no reason to think that Michigan entrepreneurs won’t cash in on this industry. 

Michigan will be the first Midwestern state to legalize marijuana for adult use. It’s part of the normalization of cannabis that we’re seeing spread across the US. We expect the east and west coasts to be the most progressive and to imagine that Michigan will be the 10th state to legalize, well, that’s pretty exciting. It puts us in a league with other cool places like California, Oregon, Washington and Vermont. It also speaks to the hard work and will of citizens, gathering 277,000 petition signatures is no small feat and MILegalize and the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol deserve thanks for making that happen.

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Won’t be Easy.

Michigan’s marijuana legalization effort won’t be without a fight. There have been state-wide legalization efforts, like Arizona, which went up in smoke due to the well-funded opposition. We should expect a battle here in Michigan, too. Fighting against legalization in Arizona was pharmaceutical maker Insys and Discount Tire. They successfully moved public opinion against legalization. We understand conservative politics in Michigan and there’s no reason to think that well-heeled people won’t put their money behind stopping this. Just as supporters in Michigan have the Drug Policy Alliance and NORML as allies, the opposition is ready for the fight.

image of a cannabis leaf symbolizing michigan marijuana legalizationWe have public opinion on our side. From big national surveys like Gallup and Pew Research Center to Michigan’s own Epic MRA, we know that people are generally in favor of legalizing. This change in opinion comes from a few things. Medical marijuana is a great place to start getting people oriented to the plant and its uses. More often than not, people know people who have used cannabis for treating and illness. Between women who are fighting breast cancer and the effect of chemotherapy; to adults and children with epilepsy and veterans who are using cannabis for PTSD—there’s a growing number of people with medical marijuana cards—in Michigan about 218,556 cards. It means in all likelihood you or someone you know is using cannabis for one of the allowable ailments.  The more people that are willing to talk about consuming cannabis for health reasons, the more ordinary it will become to the people around them.

Science is also on our side. As more credible research is done and data is shared, we’ll see people begin to believe what we’ve known for some time—that cannabis is a helpful and life-changing plant. The recent findings in JAMA that showed a reduction in opioid addiction in cannabis legal states is one data set that we can turn to.

The Future is Bright, But we Need Everyone to do These Three Things.

1. Arm yourself with the facts and educate your neighbors, family and friends about cannabis. We provide factual information on this website and on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Make sure your information is well-sourced, Leafly, High Times, The New York Times, CNN and Washington Post are great resources.

2. Support the cause with time and/or money. In Michigan, The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, MILegalize and Michigan NORML will need not only financial support but volunteer help. too. It’s important that each of us do something. If you have time, give it. If you have money, give some.

3. On November 6, 2018, you need to vote. You need to make sure no matter what is happening that day that you get to the polls and vote for Michigan marijuana legalization. Help people get to the polls if needed. Make sure everyone you know if registered to vote.

It will take all of us to give Michigan the number 10 spot in the US—it’s a spot we deserve.

marijuana stereotype, a person with a bong and a lot of flower

This will not stand. This marijuana stereotyping will not stand, man.

It’s hard to understand a stereotype until you see yourself as one. And for people in the cannabis business, we’ve got plenty of memorable stereotypes.

It begins with the 1936 film Reefer Madness where cannabis users were criminals and driven to sex and suicide by the plant. The marijuana stereotypes were dark and meant to frighten people. From all observations, the film financed by a church group was successful in continuing those stereotypes.reefer madness poster perpetuates marijuana stereotypes

The stereotypes of young people and black people as rabid cannabis users were perpetuated in the 1960s and 1970s and took a serious turn with President Richard Nixon who determined that anti-war protesters and blacks were working against his Vietnam War effort and marijuana was fueling the fire.

Recently, John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic policy chief, said this: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”  

This is how a stereotype becomes a profile. And we know the dangers of profiling.

Cheech and Chong’s 1978 movie, Up in Smoke is a classic stoner film that launched a series of pot-smoking comedies. It’s interesting though, that Reefer Madness was an anti-cannabis film and Up in Smoke portrayed marijuana as funny and harmless, yet both are enduring cultural entities that created and still perpetuate people’s views of the people who use cannabis.

marijuana user stereotype: the dudeOther films, including our inspiration for this blog title The Big Lebowski, Pineapple Express, anything with Harold and Kumar (and the list goes on) have helped further the stoner stereotype. You know, well, like, um The Dude, man.  People who use marijuana are lazy, forgetful, distracted, chill, unproductive and, almost always funny. Women often play secondary roles in cannabis films, usually as hot girlfriends of stoner dudes. Considering that 57 percent of women favor marijuana legalization and women comprise 36 percent of the leaders in cannabis, there seems to be some serious underrepresentation going on.

Late in 2017, the Netflix series, Disjointed was released. It’s a comedy about a female cannabis activist lawyer turned grower/medical dispensary owner. Her employees often partake on the job and they take their fashion cues from the 1960s and 70s. Right in the middle of medical and adult-use legalization in America, when cannabis is starting to gain some respect, we were faced with tired marijuana stereotypes. If you were to believe Disjointed, you’d think that medical marijuana dispensaries operate loose and fast with the law when it comes to checking IDs and smoking on site. People who work in medical cannabis are professionals and this scenario is far from the truth.

While Reefer Madness worked to make people fearful, Disjointed furthers the stereotypes of cannabis users and businesses in a way that doesn’t help our industry.

Here’s why marijuana stereotyping bothers us.

Cannabis is a serious business. It’s projected growth is expected to hit $21 billion by 2021. It is one of the most highly regulated industries in the US, even more so than pharmaceuticals and alcohol. People who want to operate cannabis businesses are subject to steep capitalization requirements, extensive police background checks and personal financial reviews.

We understand that Up in Smoke and Disjointed are fictional pieces. Humor and comedy are a great way to make people comfortable with something unfamiliar, but at this point in time, it doesn’t engender confidence in patients, those people who need cannabis for medicinal purposes. People with epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, those needing to alleviate the effects of chemotherapy or to lessen the trauma of PTSD count on marijuana medicine. The persona of red-eyed, slow-talking, smiling stoners growing or selling your meds needs to go!

A new picture of cannabis users and business owners is evolving and while we love The Dude, he’s a charming relic of our past.

the dude, a stereotype of a marijuana user

sunlight over Yosemite in the State of California where marijuana is legal.

California’s Legal Marijuana: One More Reason to Love the Golden State

As if the stunning light, mountains, rolling ocean waves and wine weren’t reasons enough to love California, now they give us legal marijuana. As you might have heard, the state ended marijuana prohibition on January 1, 2018.

light through the trees in California near the Thomas Aquinas College. California's legal marijuana grows in communities north of this area, which is close to Ojai.

What’s the big deal? There are other states (and districts) where adults can buy cannabis for any reason. They include Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Washington D.C. And it appears that Vermont, New Jersey and Rhode Island are also on the cusp of adult-use legalization, too, with elected officials leading efforts in those states.

In Michigan, our home state, citizens and cannabis advocates are awaiting approval of petition signatures that will bring a vote on adult-use in 2018. News on petition approval is expected at any time. Our border neighbor to the north, Canada is in: cannabis will be available for purchase by adults in mid-summer.

Back to the question above: why is California remarkable?

California Scales Up the Impact of Legal Marijuana

Not only is California a large state geographically, there are a lot of people who live there, 39.5 million, to be specific. The entire country of Canada has 35.1 million. In comparison, Michigan has 9.8 million residents. The legal western states quite simply don’t have the density of population of California. Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Nevada combined have 15 million residents.

The Golden State also boats the sixth largest economy in the world. The contribution of California’s legal marijuana industry will make to the economy is astounding: projections are it will be an industry worth over $5.1 billion this year alone. It is estimated that the existing black market is valued at $13.5 billion.

The state is levying a 15 percent tax on marijuana, collected by provisioning businesses. Cities and towns with those facilities can add their own taxes, too.

drawing of Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, a proponent of legal marijuanaIt’s not just California dreamers, hippies and Deadheads that made marijuana legalization happen. Both Pew and Gallup research firms have published opinion research that indicates Americans are much more in favor of legalization than not. Gallup’s most recent survey had favorability at 64 percent. In Michigan, polling by EPIC-MRA in February 2017 showed the 57 percent of Michiganders favored marijuana legalization.

Marijuana Legalization in Michigan isn’t a Sure Thing.

The most recent successful vote in California, Prop. 64 was the second attempt at legalization. A legalization ballot proposal was defeated there in 2010, 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent. Michigan will face some of the same opponents in the November election: pharmaceutical companies, healthcare organizations, law enforcement and the alcohol industry have all historically funded anti-cannabis efforts. But, we think public opinion (and a good voter turnout) will be in our favor.

As Goes California, so Goes the Nation.

We asked Jeff Hank, the board chair of MILegalize what this means for Michigan.

the mountains and ocean along the pacific coast highway in California where marijuana is legal“With the largest U.S. state now legal, Americans will see cannabis more normalized, and visitors to the Golden State returning home will wonder why they are second-class citizens when it comes to personal liberty and cannabis policy common sense,” Hank said.

“When crafting the MILegalize proposal to regulate marijuana like alcohol, we studied every state including California for best practices. We took what already worked in Michigan and included concepts like the ‘micro-business’ which California also has in a different form, and we included modern regulations to prevent diversion to minors. Big money can dominate the cannabis market, to the exclusion of legacy farmers and shopkeepers. California hasn’t done a very good job managing this. Michigan has the opportunity to end the civil rights crisis of cannabis prohibition, and also ensure upward mobility and market access for caregivers and entrepreneurs. This is critical to eliminate the black market and benefit the general public,” he said.

State by state ballot-driven legalization isn’t the best way to end American cannabis prohibition. But until the federal government comes to terms with its failed drug policies and declassifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, we’ll live with a patchwork of varied state regulations.

We saw how important this is recently when Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo. His action, which threatens legal state marijuana businesses with DEA action, also threatens the legalization movement in states that are trying to end prohibition.

Certainly, those businesses that are making money from cannabis in California and other legal states are coming into Michigan, we’ve seen their presence already in our medical marketplace.

Might it be business, rather than citizens that pushes federal legalization forward? We hope it is a coalition of both and that the change comes soon.

a green cannabis plant

The Cole Memo and Jeff Sessions for Dummies

Ok, first off. You’re not a dummy. But the announcement that Jeff Sessions is rescinding the Cole Memo is confusing, especially since more Americans accept the idea of legal cannabis and the country is moving toward ending prohibition. His action raised the ire of cannabis advocates, citizens in adult-use legal states, elected officials and people in medical marijuana states.

Here we go!

What is the Cole Memo?

It’s a document written by a James Cole, deputy attorney general in 2013 when times were good and Barack Obama was president. Without going into the weeds of legalese, it tells U.S. attorneys where to focus their marijuana efforts.

These efforts include preventing:

  •   the distribution of marijuana to minors
  •   marijuana revenue from funding criminal enterprises, gangs or cartels
  •   marijuana from moving across state lines 
  •   use of state-legal marijuana sales as a cover for illegal activity
  •   violence and use of firearms in growing or distributing marijuana
  •   drugged driving
  •   growing marijuana on public lands
  •   marijuana possession or use on federal property

It recognized that states have implemented laws to regulate marijuana and that those laws, for the most part, support what the federal government wants to see.

The memo tells federal staff to allow the states to police themselves. So over the last five years, all of the legal states wrote and followed their own laws regarding cannabis growing and sales. It gave the federal government the ability to focus on real criminal issues. This memo was important because of two things: it recognized the role of states in self-regulation and it acknowledged, tacitly, that the federal government had other priorities than chasing down cannabis businesses and it wasn’t going to spend funds on marijuana cases.

What did Sessions do With the Cole Memo and why?

Sessions rescinded the memo and is implementing a new policy. This one directs federal prosecutors to return to marijuana enforcement policy, overriding the laws in legal states. “Therefore, today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country,” wrote Sessions.

photo of the Hollywood sign in CaliforniaWhat this action does is give U.S. Attorneys the ability to prosecute adult-use marijuana businesses. Many of which just opened earlier this week in California.

We’ve known since before Sessions became the Attorney General that he hates cannabis, he has said that good people don’t smoke marijuana. He has always been a threat to the cannabis industry and now we’re seeing his wrath. The heart of the issue is the memo isn’t law and what we need now is legislation ending cannabis prohibition.

What Does This Mean for Michigan?

For now, we’re ok.

The bright spot in all of this, it is the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. It is a 2014 amendment to the federal government budget package three jars full of cannabis flowerthat’s up for renewal later this month. The powerful amendment, which has bipartisan support, protects states with medical marijuana programs. It prevents the federal government from using resources to prosecute people and businesses that are complying with the law in medical marijuana states.

What’s devastating about the Cole Memo action is that our effort to end cannabis prohibition in Michigan could be upended as we move toward adult-use on the ballot in 2018.  

What Can You Do?

Call your Congressperson and tell them how important it is to uphold the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. Here’s a script to follow and quick way to find your representative.

It’s time for all of us to step up our advocacy efforts and get involved (support with time or a donation) with NORML, Marijuana Policy Project and MILegalize.

Voice your support of cannabis and work against prohibition now.

photo of 2017 made by a sparkler

Looking at 2017’s Most Notable Marijuana News Events

It’s hard to say if this was a monumental year in marijuana news, but 2017 felt pretty good to us. There was a lot going on across the U.S. and in Michigan.

Here are our top ten most memorable news events in marijuana for the year.

10) California wildfires destroyed a significant amount of cannabis in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. While all wildfires are heartbreaking and painful for individuals, families and communities, this year’s fire in California was especially tough on cannabis growers. Fires that broke out just before harvest time destroyed or damaged an estimated 34 cannabis farms and tragically the crop is uninsured due to federal regulations. 

9) California, Nevada and Canada begin to implement adult-use legalization.  After voting in November 2016 to end cannabis prohibition, both California and Nevada started working toward creating their legal environments. We love the “get it done” spirit in Nevada—it managed to open dispensaries less than eight months after the vote. Its larger sister state, California will end cannabis prohibition on January 1, 2018. Canadians from Nunavut to Saskatchewan will have access to cannabis starting in the coming summer, thanks to some hard work by the government in 2017.

8) Cheers to 360,000+ Michigan citizens who signed petitions for adult-use cannabis legalization. Volunteers and paid solicitors from MILegalize and the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol secured 100,000 more signatures than required and validation of signatures is underway through the Board of Canvassers. We hope it will clear the board and go to voters in 2018. We expect the vote to be positive.

7) Jeff Sessions was appointed attorney general of the U.S. This is a dark mark on cannabis. The AG is a long-time hater of cannabis and will do what he can to ensure prohibition doesn’t end. The upside of this story is we have a dysfunctional Congress, he has a volatile boss and there are 29 states with some sort of marijuana laws on the books, which is going to make DEA intervention difficult. Public opinion is changing, too. A recent Gallup poll showed that 60 percent of Americans favor cannabis legalization.

6) Colorado marked its 5th year of adult use legalization and the sky didn’t fall. In speaking with the CBC, the head of Colorado’s Department of photo of a colorado map and notebookPublic Health Dr. Larry Wolk said this: “The short answer is we have not seen much. We have not experienced any significant issues as a result of legalization. I think a lot of people think when you legalize you are going from zero to some high use number, but they forget that even when marijuana is not legal, one in four adults and one in five kids are probably using on a somewhat regular basis. What we’ve found since legalization is that those numbers haven’t really changed.”

5) The American Legion came out for cannabis. The venerable veterans organization is requesting further research regarding PTSD and traumatic brain injury and cannabis. Many veterans find cannabis to be a successful alternative to psychotropic drugs. Officials at the national American Legion are asking the federal government to allow Veterans Administration (VA) physicians to speak freely about medical marijuana to their patients. Presently, physicians are prohibited from talking about the plant as an option. The Legion with more than 14,000 posts nationwide has great potential to change public policy.

4) Northern Michigan University announced a marijuana major. Students wildcat logo for Northern Michigan Universitywill be able to major in medicinal plant chemistry at NMU, which offers America’s only bachelor’s degree in cannabis program. CH420 isn’t a slacker program though, it requires 120 credits of chemistry, biology, soils, genetics accounting and financial management classes. Its grads are bound to be in high demand. Way to go Wildcats!

3) Marijuana as a gateway out of opioid addiction. Opioid overdoses killed more 64,000 Americans in 2016 and that number is expected to increase this year. More and more research is leading the medical profession to look at marijuana as a gateway out of addiction to powerful painkillers. While more research needs to be done, marijuana shows promise in doing less harm and more good for patients with chronic pain. And you can’t overdose on marijuana.

2) Licensing for medical marijuana began in Michigan this year. It was a rough and tumble year in Lansing as LARA, the state’s regulating entity rolled out its rules on issuing licenses for people who want to grow, process, rotunda of the Michigan Capital Building in Lansing test, transport or provision medical marijuana. Dispensaries were threatened with closure by a state board, politicians stepped up to keep them open, liquid capital rates were set, municipalities opted in or out, and application materials were created. The licensing portal opened on December 15 and now we wait to see who will be first to show off their piece of legal paperwork.

1) Projections for cannabis job growth will exceed manufacturing by 2022. It’s an understatement to say that marijuana is a growth industry in that there are already 100,000 to 150,000 marijuana workers and about 90,000 people work in plant touching businesses. Cannabis and its ancillary businesses have created 43,000 full-time jobs in California, 23,000 in Colorado and 22,000 Washington.  Michigan is the second largest medical marijuana state (next to California) and should have similar numbers for jobs when licenses are issued in this spring.

We look forward to the promise of a new year and all that it brings to cannabis-friendly people everywhere!