Jan
11
HOW WE GOT HERE: Cashing in on legalized marijuana


Michigan lit the way in the Midwest for
recreational marijuana so, where are all the pot shops? On Election Day 2018
Michigan voters clearly said legalize it. Not exactly known for being a
progressive state, Michigan became the first in the Midwest to legalize
recreational marijuana but we’re not Colorado just yet. There are plenty of
signs of spring in Michigan. Robins daffodils and thousands of people
lighting up joints at Hash Bash. It’s held each year in Ann Arbor
on the first Saturday of April – at high noon. Hello Hash Bash! [CROWD CHEERING] We did it! [CLAPPING] It started as a protest in the
1970s but over the years it’s becoming increasingly mainstream, and is now a
can’t-miss meet and greet from Michigan Democrats. We’ve got to criminalize marijuana and get people out of jail that are in jail. Drugs are not a criminal law issue, drugs are a public health issue. Hash Bash has evolved from a protest into a celebration but I like to remind people of the roots of the protests and
why this came about. This came about because people were protesting the laws
against marijuana. BINGHAM: While Michigan legalized medical marijuana in 2008 there was confusion around enforcement. For years police cracked down on medical
growers raiding dispensaries and riding ATVs into the woods to chop down pot
plants. ABEL: Well the government has always been pretty far behind the people on
this subject and it’s taken a lot of kicking and screaming to drag the
government along. They acted like they were doing everything they could to expedite this but clearly that was not the case. BINGHAM: It took the state eight years
to sort out rules to bring medical pot under stricter control. ABEL: Medical marijuana was an avenue that average people could get behind and understand especially
once they saw people benefiting from it. BINGHAM: Once the state figured out how to handle medical marijuana the biggest weed businesses in the country saw an
opportunity to begin staking their claim in Michigan. — JEFF RADWAY: You’re going to have big sophisticated players coming into the market MSO or multi-state operators are
largely publicly traded and they’re absolutely coming to Michigan. ABEL: Larger companies specifically companies that are transitioning from tobacco or
alcohol they’re learning that they’re losing market share to cannabis and so
they’d like to transition into marijuana. BINGHAM: Suddenly it was no longer just the hippies and activists from Hash Bash asking lawmakers for change. By 2018 recreational marijuana had momentum in Michigan. With the help of national political groups and a successful signature drive, legislation landed on the November ballot. 57% of Michigan voters said yes. RADWAY: I think you’ll see a whole host of
marijuana infused businesses, you’ll see wellness products, topical balms, lotions,
makeup. We’ll see retail stores, we’ll see growing of one hundred, five hundred and two thousand plant sizes. We’ll see processing companies and that’s
where the branding occurs. There is virtually no end to where cannabis will
be used from a consumer standpoint. So recreational marijuana is legal. There’s
just one problem there’s still nowhere to legally buy it. When the law went into effect the
state didn’t have rules ready for growing and selling recreational
marijuana. But the law does allow for small gifts of weed, so some ganja-preneurs have taken advantage of that selling things like books chocolate or
t-shirts with a free gift. Gray market businesses are the least of the industry’s problems. Immediately after the legalization vote local governments
panicked. More than 400 communities have already banned pot shops and grow houses. I don’t think it’s good for Pontiac. I think it’s a mistake. It’s just to me opening up Pandora’s Box to other issues there’s cost to enforcement We don’t need it. RADWAY: This is somewhat reminiscent of prohibition ending too right? As alcohol
became more acceptable lawmakers regulators realized that this isn’t the
end of the world. If it’s done in a safe way if it’s done in a compliant way we
expect that more and more municipalities will opt in but every elected official
in every community ultimately needs to represent the will of their voters and
their community. But even in cities that are welcoming
big cannabis, pot shops won’t be opening up anytime soon. Michigan likely won’t see its first legal sale of recreational marijuana until 2020. The applications have to be available by December 6th of this year
and the state has 60 days to process those applications and make a decision
so at the latest by March we should have stores open and operating. The state of Oregon underwent a similar struggle after legalizing weed four years ago.
The market there wasn’t up and running until a year and a half after voters
said yes. And even when companies did open it wasn’t exactly a walk in the
park. ABEL: The problem that Oregon has is
oversupply. They never capped licenses until just
recently. There are people who are illegally shipping it out of state and
in addition some of the growers are having a hard time making it because
there’s a glut on the market. I think Michigan is trying very hard to learn from other states. When there’s too much product in the market, A) tax revenue will
fall. B) if prices fall below the level of normal market conditions operators
are going to be hard-pressed to follow the regulatory scheme and if they cut
corners it’s not safe for patients, it’s not safe for consumers and it ultimately
puts a lot of pressure on the regulatory framework. BINGHAM: Recreational marijuana businesses will face state and federal regulations and
roadblocks like finding a bank that will even do business with them. I would love to not have to come to work every day violating federal laws but I realize
that social change in this country takes time. At some point in the game
federal legalization is likely going to happen and should happen. It’s happened
in other countries like Canada it’s happening throughout the world. Launching in a new industry that’s highly regulated that there is some political
or regulatory strife around is not easy but is it a worthwhile endeavor? We
believe so. But while we wait to see what legalization actually looks like in
Michigan there’s still clearly plenty of pot to
go around. It took a decade for Michigan voters to make the leap from legalizingmedical marijuana to legalizing recreational marijuana and the debate
isn’t over visit MLive.com/howwegothere
for more information about legal weed in Michigan and to learn how the industry
is expected to change in our state and beyond.